Why is Salt So Magical but Bad for Your Health? Understanding Our Evolution and Addiction to Salt

  Everyone knows that eating too much salt is bad, but why do we continue to sprinkle salt on food?

  | Salt reduction experience |
  Over the years, I have done a lot of things that made me uncomfortable for work: I got up in the middle of the night for a month, tried the fruit and vegetable juice fasting method, and ate disgusting Internet celebrity foods – all of which I tolerated. However, when I had to insist on not eating salt for a day, my whole body became uneasy – I really couldn’t suppress my inner resistance. The French often say: “The days without bread are unbearably long.” For me, “bread” should be replaced by “salt”: days without salt are gray, tasteless, and so long that there is no end in sight.
  I know this feeling because I tried it and it lasted more than a day. When I was 20 years old, I developed an autoimmune disease and was prescribed a large number of steroids and told to reduce my salt intake. I can only follow the doctor’s advice not to add salt to my meals and try not to eat salty food. The whole process was a desperate slog and it made me extremely depressed. After my physical condition improved, I focused on making up for all the salt I had eaten less before. After that, no matter what I ate, my first reaction was to add salt first. I love marinated olives and capers, and I buy a lot of salty chocolate. My favorite drink is a dirty martini – a delicious brine – and I eat potato chips every day. After giving up dairy, potato chips were my go-to snack.
  Eating too much salt is indeed harmful to the body, but it is not easy for the public to fully accept this message. Graham McGregor, a cardiovascular specialist and chairman of Action for Salt and Health, said: “Salt is considered by many people to be a normal part of the diet. You turn on the TV and the chef on the screen is always spreading salt, yes. , Those people love salt, and many of them are estimated to have high blood pressure or have had strokes.”
  Excessive salt intake can cause high blood pressure, an “invisible killer”, and 60% of strokes and 50% of heart disease are caused by high blood pressure. induced. Secondly, eating too much salt will accelerate calcium loss. As age increases, these people are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis. Excessive sodium intake can also increase the burden on the kidneys and damage kidney function. Not only that, research shows that eating too much salt can damage immune system function.
  My blood pressure is pretty normal, but I’m worried about strokes and osteoporosis, as well as other negative consequences of eating too much salt. To be honest, I consider myself very careful about my diet: I eat carefully, don’t smoke and never drink excessively, and I take vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids by mouth. But why did I ignore the risks of salt? Why is it so magical to me?
  | Salt is essential |
  Human beings need salt – the main component of salt, sodium chloride, is an essential element to maintain the normal operation of human body functions. Professor of Physiology Matthew Bailey pointed out, “After humans changed from sea creatures to land creatures, they still need to maintain the ‘internal ocean’ of the body. Our body fluids are basically composed of salt water and need to be constantly replenished, so humans have evolved corresponding Nervous system – Once the body realizes that the ‘internal ocean’ is drying up, the brain instructs it to look outside for salty food.” In salt-deficient prehistoric times, the average human daily intake of salt was about 0.5 grams; today , salt is cheap and abundant, and is added to almost all foods. The average British person consumes about 8.4 grams of salt per day, which is far more than the body’s normal needs. Unfortunately, our bodies have not evolved to the point where they automatically shut down their demand when salt is exceeded.
  It is precisely because of this uncontrollable instinct that the entire history of mankind is a history of chasing salt. As early as prehistoric times, humans have been trying to extract salt from the sea and land. In 2021, archaeologists discovered a 6,000-year-old salt production base in northeast England. Salt has historically been used as currency and is also widely used in religious rituals. There have been countless wars and conflicts over salt: Louis XVI’s salt tax made the people increasingly unable to eat salt, which indirectly led to the outbreak of the French Revolution; in 1930, Gandhi led the anti-salt tax movement and called on India People made their own salt to protest the British monopoly laws. To this day, many landmarks still retain traces of salt: early humans often followed animal footprints to find salt mines, and later salt roads recorded the process of salt transportation and trade; the suffix “Witch” frequently appears in British place names , also partly derived from the Anglo-Saxon name for salt works.
  At first, humans only used salt as a preservative, but slowly, we began to eat salt simply for the love of it. “Once sodium is sensed, taste cells on the tongue send signals to the brain, awakening the limbic system, which produces happy emotions,” Bailey said. “It’s like saying eating salt will make you happy.” ”
  | The king of flavors? |
  Does salt make food more delicious? Chef James Strawbridge has a resounding answer. His new book, The Art of Salt and Seasoning, is a paean to natural salt. From canned sardines to pickles, salt amplifies the flavors of food in your mouth and transfers them to your brain. In the book, Strawbridge introduces seasoned salt combinations such as rhubarb, minced leeks, and barbecue seasonings, and also provides corresponding recipes.
  Strawbridge said that although he is not like “Kitchen Goddess” Nigella, who always carries a bottle of Morton sea salt in his handbag, salt is indeed “part of his lifestyle.” “It’s so interesting to deal with salt. I like to study salt and am willing to share my experience with others.” He believes that people who love cooking should try to explore all kinds of edible salt, just like herbs and spices, and learn when and how to use it. How to use them.
  Strawbridge set up a little experiment by asking me to taste two slices of tomato: one sprinkled with refined table salt, the other with Cornish sea salt. In his opinion, refined table salt “has a strong chemical taste that is off-putting”, but Cornish sea salt can make tomatoes “more tomatoey”. He is right. After adding refined salt to tomatoes, their own taste is diluted. Even my dull taste buds can detect that it has lost its previous sweetness and delicateness. In this regard, Strawbridge has a vivid metaphor – “It is the gap between stereo surround speakers and old radios that are about to be scrapped.”
  Table salt has a long history and a wide range of varieties, which is especially suitable for gourmets to make a fuss about. I watched a food documentary of the same name adapted from the best-selling book “Salt, Fat, Acid and Calories” by Samin Nosrat. Nosrat discovered that there are more than 4,000 types of salt in Japan alone. She tasted soy sauce fermented in century-old wooden barrels and examined the process of extracting alginate from seaweed.
  McGregor, president of the Salt and Health Action Association, disagrees with the media’s hype around salt, especially large-grained salt. He said: “The larger the grains of salt, the less salty they taste. Small crystals dissolve faster, making it easier for people to taste salty quickly.” As for saying that salt is rich in minerals, that’s even more untrue. It’s meaningless. According to McGregor: “I’m afraid you have to swallow a fatal amount of salt to get that little bit of so-called potassium.”
  | Scientific Salt Eating |
  Regardless, it’s generally agreed that we inadvertently consume too much salt, whether it’s bread, breakfast cereals, sauces or…well, just about everything! Businesses like to use salt to mask the quality and taste that processed foods lack. McGregor said bluntly: “Any packaged food produced by the food industry has added salt unless you can prove that it does not.”
  Fortunately, there is room for improvement in this situation. From 2001 to 2010, in order to reduce the salt content of processed foods, all walks of life in the UK worked together to formulate unified targets and monitoring mechanisms, which ultimately reduced the amount of salt used by 20% to 40%, making the average salt intake of residents The dosage was reduced from 9.5 grams to 8.1 grams per day, which greatly improved public health: the number of people suffering from high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease was reduced, and 9,000 premature deaths were prevented overall. But since 2011, the government has placed all responsibility for salt reduction on the food industry, causing the initiative to stall.
  Finding low-sodium salt substitutes is another option, but it takes a lot of time and requires you to be a good label reader. Action on Salt and Health has a food information app that helps people understand the products on the shelves. However, McGregor said: “You may have to go to at least ten supermarkets to buy the food you want.”
  Of course, unless you are completely isolated from the world, it is impossible not to be exposed to processed foods, but the food processing industry is also changing with the times. Advance together. Bailey, a professor of physiology, said that many leading brands in the food industry are studying substances other than sodium that can trigger happy feedback in the limbic system – MSG is a strong competitor. Food researchers are also working hard to explore salty foods with umami flavors (such as soybeans) to test whether they can trigger the body’s “happy nerves” at a lower salt content.

  My daily salt intake has already exceeded the 6g red line, so should I reduce salt? I get dizzy when I think about this problem. McGregor comforted me not to put too much pressure on myself. “Once you get used to it, you will find that the original taste of food is more delicious.” He also said that after a month, I will get used to eating light and my sense of taste will be more sensitive. “Salt is a chemical that comes from the ground. Why do you always want to sprinkle it on your food?” said McGregor, who even gave up most cheeses because of the high salt content. “If you like to drink seawater, then Just keep eating cheese!”
  In fact, some people’s journey to reducing salt was shorter than McGregor predicted. “I have only used it for about a week. In fact, just use other flavors instead of salt,” said a friend who has successfully reduced salt. “Korean red pepper is a good choice.” Another friend said that it has already been used. After reducing salt for two weeks, I now feel “annoyed by the sight of salt”.
  Thinking back to the time when I first tried to reduce salt many years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about salt no matter what, but now, I can’t even stick to it for a day. I had boring porridge for breakfast, so I put up with it; for lunch I ate vegan sushi from the supermarket without dipping it in soy sauce, so I put up with it; but at night, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I stuffed it into my mouth in revenge while cooking. A handful of potato chips, a big splash of soy sauce into the fried rice, and finally a handful of salted peanuts sprinkled on top. I’m really addicted to salt. Even if I die, I’m afraid people will have to fight hard to take away the salty food I hold in my hands. Unfortunately, with my appetite for salt, this day will only come sooner rather than later.