The salt issue. People keep bringing it up as though it’s news.
A new report says reduce your salt by ½ teaspoon a day and you will be more healthy (as though that alone would do it).
The fact is, we have struggled to make our food so inexpensive that we’ve basically decided to grow cardboard, which, if you’ve ever tasted it, requires plenty of salt, especially if you intend to serve it to guests. Why do you think food is so cheap? Because there’s nothing of value in it! Including flavor. Thus, the salt.
Do we really need The New England Journal of Medicine to tell us this, or to have the earnest emotive Diane Sawyer reporting it during the dinner hour as though if we just kept our hands off that salt shaker we’d be 80-year-old triathletes?
The problem is in the eating of processed food, the eating of the cheap stuff. The cup of Swanson’s Organic Chicken Broth (shouldn’t broth be in quotes?) has half a gram of our recommended 2.3 grams. There’s nearly the same amount in that healthy V-8 juice. A Big Mac has twice that.
We need salt to live. It regulates nutrient exchange in our cells. If we don’t get it we die. Therefore our bodies are highly attuned to the taste of salt. That’s how we’ve evolved to regulate it. The problem is, we don’t recognize it in the form of that chicken broth (please use water instead, btw). We don’t sense it in the V-8. We do sense it on green beans along with the butter and lemon juice, mmm. In a baked potato, definitely. On a tomato—salt and tomato is what salting food is all about.
Have you ever tried this? Taste a tomato plain. Taste the same tomato with some kosher salt on it. That shows you the value of salt.
I have talked with many chefs about this. Thomas Keller and I have had serious discussions about the stance to take on salt. I wrote a book in which the most important ingredient is salt. My belief is this: if you eat natural foods, you don’t need to worry about salt. Period. End of discussion. Some people have real issues with hypertension—they have to watch it on the salt. My mom, I go easy on it when she visits (makes her ankles puffy). Otherwise the truth is this: if you have a salt intake problem, you’re eating the wrong food.
The above tomatoes? They were salted, floured, egg-washed and dipped in differing quantities of flour and corn meal. I love the acidity of fried tomatoes, and the juicy crunch. Wish I were having them for lunch. Alas, it’s January. Maybe some leftover veg stew from last night, nothing but winter vegetables, a bacon rind, and water. Perfectly seasoned with salt.
Update 1/27: Dr. John White, an associate professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia, a kidney doctor, left the following comment, which I think is worth calling attention to here for those not reading comments:
"As a nephrologist, I would like to make a few comments regarding salt. The primary problem with salt-excess and hypertension depends on one’s inherent ability to excrete salt thru the kidney. We all must maintain strict sodium balance within our bodies in order to maintain normal cellular function. Thusly, we have adapted the ability to this balance at very low levels of salt intake, as well as very high levels. The problem is that some people require a higher blood pressure in order to excrete higher levels of salt, thus their blood pressure becomes “salt-sensitive”. The other issue is poorly understood and appears to arise from chronic 'salt-toxicity.' Societies that subsist on very low sodium diet and high potassium diets have almost no hypertension. This effect disappears when these individuals convert to our 'Western Diet.'”