Salt to Taste And How Sweet is your Sugar?

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Photograph by Jade Gordon

Salt to Taste

It is of the oldest known and used spices, and the African and European explorers were known to have traded an ounce of salt for an ounce of gold, and salt was literally worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, we are today paying heavily for it – excess salt intake is related to many degenerative diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease etc. Indians are said to be more genetically prone to obesity, heart diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes, when compared to other nations - hence we need more caution.

Indians score heavily over others in their dietary salt intake, because our food usually contains high salt accompaniments such as upinkais (pickles), chutneys, our snacks like  murrukus, kodbeles, samosas, kachoris, bhujias, namkeens, potato chips and golgappas; and today’s instant noodles and pizzas are loaded with salt.

We can broadly classify edible salt into sea salt, rock salt, black salt (volcanic salt) and processed salt.

Processing & Production of Salt

Salt is produced using three methods: rock salt mining, solar evaporation, and vacuum evaporation. Processed table salt has 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals such as iodine and moisture absorbents, dried at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This high heat alters the natural chemical structure of the salt. By contrast, unrefined salt has 84 percent sodium chloride and 16 percent other naturally occurring minerals, including many trace minerals like silicon, phosphorous and vanadium.

Effects of processed salts on us

Inorganic sodium chloride in the form of processed salt can keep you from an ideal fluid balance and can overburden your elimination system.

Every gram of excess sodium chloride that your body has to neutralize, uses up 23 grams of cellular water. Hence, eating too much common processed salt will cause fluid to accumulate in your tissue, which contributes to: water retention in the body, unsightly cellulite, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney and gall bladder stones.

Other effects of taking in too much sodium include excessive thirst, anaemia, acidity, reduced absorption of calcium from food causing osteoporosis and affecting eyesight. Processed salt will also often contain potentially dangerous preservatives. Calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate,
and aluminum hydroxide are often added to improve salt’s “pourability.” Aluminum is a light alloy that deposits into your brain - a potential cause of Alzheimers disease.

Hyponatremia or low sodium in the body is a rare occurrence because of naturally occurring sodium in many foods, but avoiding salt altogether must be done with caution.

Knowing your sodium intake

Naturally occurring Sodium - Some foods naturally contain sodium. These include celery and other vegetables, and dairy products such as milk, meat and shellfish. While they don’t have an abundance of sodium, eating these foods does add to your overall sodium intake. Apart from these, many recipes call for salt, some people also salt their food at the table. Many other condiments contain sodium too.

Sodium Additives in processed foods- There are more than forty known sodium additives ranging from the excitotoxin monosodium glutamate and others like sodium saccharin used as artificial sweetener, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate as a sequestrant, Sodium Alginate or Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose as a stabilizer, Sodium Benzoate as flavoring and anti-microbial preservative, and many more.

How Much Salt We Should Consume?

An individual should consume not more than 2.3g of sodium per day, including sodium from natural foods, other sodium additives in processed foods. One teaspoon of salt contains 5g of NaCl, which has 2g of Sodium. It is safe therefore to have no more than one teaspoonful of salt per person, per day. So a family of four should have only 300g of common salt per month, if the whole family eats at home all the time. We have to keep in mind that all processed foods and restaurant foods usually have a high salt content. Adding salt towards the end of cooking gives a salty taste without ‘hidden salt’. Check it out, are you exceeding your limit?

How Sweet is your Sugar?

Sugar – pure white, deliciously sweet and nutritionally useless. As we pass through the  supermarket aisles, ice cream parlours and mithai shops perpetuating another generation of dental decay, obesity, weakened bones, diabetes, hyperactivity, emotional imbalance and dysfunctional immune systems, we must ask ourselves the compelling question of why we consume sugar, and especially, why we give sugar to our children.

First, let us understand the term ‘sugar’. Dextrose, also called “corn sugar”, is derived synthetically from starch. Fructose is fruit sugar. Maltose is malt sugar. Lactose is milk sugar. Sucrose is refined sugar made from sugar cane and sugar beet.

As Dr. William Dufty, author of the best selling “Sugar Blues” says, to use the same word ‘sugar’ for both glucose and table sugar or sucrose, which have different chemical structures and different effects on the body is misleading. Glucose is certainly an essential element in the human body. Sucrose addiction is something new in the history of the human animal. This confusion has helped only the sugar industry, not people, he says.

All the cells in our body need glucose to function. Many of the foods in Nature - fruits, vegetables, cereals etc. - provide glucose for the body along with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. But sugar provides only empty calories with no vitamins, enzymes or any other useful nutrients for the body. On the other hand, sugar leaves acid residues in the body which needs to be neutralized by borrowing electrolytes containing calcium, magnesium, etc. from other parts of the body, thereby paving the way for various diseases.

Unfortunately since this is a slow process, diseases, such as osteoporosis, show up after several years or even decades, and we tend to ignore the ill effects of sugar. Primarily, sugar is not a natural food for the body.

Processing of Sugar and its Effects

Sugar has been in existence in the world for just about 170 years. It is processed as follows: the juice of sugar cane and sugar beets is diluted, heated and lime added to it; sugar is crystallized, refined and bleached snow-white more often than not by the use of charred animal bones.

During the refining process, 64 food elements are destroyed. All the vitamins, amino acids, fiber, and all other nutrients are destroyed. To a lesser or greater degree, all refined sweeteners such as corn syrup, maple syrup, etc., undergo similar destructive processes.

Sugar and Diabetes

Carbohydrates like whole wheat, unpolished rice and other whole cereals release glucose slowly into the system. However, table sugar and ‘refined’ flour like maida quickly release sugar into the system. The body responds with a rush of insulin to neutralize its effects – and this leads to low sugar in the blood. Again the body tries to self regulate with tiredness or the need to eat. If we continue to eat excess sweets with sugar and polished cereals (as in most bakery products and Indian mithais), the cycle continues, laying an excellent foundation for diabetes. Excess Fats in the cells (intramyocellular lipids) add to the problem by inhibiting the action of insulin to let cells absorb glucose.

How much sugar is permitted?

None – if you really wish to take charge of your health! The United Nations and the World Health Organization released guidelines in 2003 that say sugar should account for no more than 10% of daily calories – which works out to about 10 teaspoonfuls. But we do not know how much these world bodies are influenced by the sugar lobbies or by just the submission to the almost universal sweet tooth. Permitting sugar as an incidental additive rather than a daily compulsion or addiction may be a sensible approach.

What are the alternatives?

Why do we like sugar? Many writers on food and nutrition say that we have been natural fruitarians for millions of years and hence our fondness for sweet foods. Eating more fruits with all their healthful enzymes and vitamins – especially in the morning – is said to reduce our craving for sugar. To reduce table sugar intake, do it gradually, increasing the amount of fruits, dates, honey and jaggery in your food.

Any processed / chemical alternatives like Aspartame are extremely harmful to health. Jaggery is rich in iron and other minerals and much healthier than processed cane sugar. Honey is also a healthy substitute when used moderately.

Sources: “The Sugar Trap & How to Avoid It”, by Beatrice Trum Humter; “The Reverse Diabetes Diet” by Dr. Neal Barnard.