Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Salty tales

I’d like to share a few salty tales with you. They’re all G-rated, but we’re going to be contemplating some real danger here.

Who would think that a chicken dinner (baked, not fried, mind you), a can of “low-sodium” chili, a nationally-acclaimed diet meal, or even a wholesome lunch at a popular senior citizen center could wind up being hazardous to your health?

All, I discovered, were loaded with sodium. In some cases, a single meal or serving greatly exceeded the recommended daily maximum of 1,500 mg or less suggested in a recent Anthem BlueCross BlueShield’ publication “Living Well.”

Salt and I have a long history together and I admire and respect its beneficial qualities. 

I helped my parents set up chunky saltblock salt licks to help deer and wildlife survive in our Michigan wilderness retreat.

I’ve visited the Lewis & Clark salt cairn site near Seaside, Ore., and marveled at how vital salt was to their historic cross-county expedition; and to the generations of explorers who used it to preserve their food supply.

I’ve loved swimming in both oceans and the occasional luxurious salt-water pool. I know how vital saline solutions are for medical use. Since I’ve been using special sea salt and purified water for nightly Neti pot ablutions, my allergies have all but vanished and colds, flu and respiratory infections have been considerably less frequent. Salt is even one of my favorite cleaning agents.

But with a family history of high blood pressure, for decades, I’ve done my best to avoid consuming excessive quantities of it. And that can be very tough to do.

Read the fine print and do a little checking and you’ll discover that salt is everywhere, in almost everything, including places you’d least expect to find it.

If you carefully read labels on canned and processed foods, you’ll discover that a single serving on a product labeled “low sodium” can sometimes be more than the recommended amount for an entire day — and shockingly, sometimes more than sodium levels of similar “regular” products.

Think you’re being safe with healthy choices like lean turkey or skinless chicken breasts that you’re preparing yourself? Check and you could find that poultry has been infused with saline solutions that raise sodium to unacceptable levels.

You could also find yourself sabotaged when you’re trying to make healthy choices while eating out at anything from fast-food emporiums to five star establishments.

Even with something as simple as a salad, the salty devil is often lurking in the details. Order dressings on the side or avoid them all together and you may still be piling on the salt with things like cheese, croutons and super-salty broiled chicken fillets.

Many of us have given up on any prepared frozen dinners or snacks. Even choices labeled as “healthy  and “diet,” that pass muster in terms of low calories, fat and cholesterol, are too often loaded with salt.

The quest for low-sodium choices seems to be the final frontier even in health-oriented, organic markets and health food sections of mainstream supermarkets. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. I can remember when concerned parents successfully demanded that baby food manufacturers remove unnecessary salt, sugar, food coloring and other additives from their products.

Babies never missed it, and neither will the rest of us, I believe, if we toss out the salt shaker. I finally gave up and decided to prepare most of my own food from scratch. With the use of chile and other spices, wines and vinegars, I soon found that I didn’t miss salt at all. Your tastebuds become so finely-tuned, in fact, that most of the world’s fare seems much too salty, and you find salt actually interferes with your appreciation of good fresh food, raw or cooked.

Still, it would be great to be able to enjoy more of the fare at my favorite restaurants and the masterpieces of good cooks at homes, fiestas, and salad and salsa bars. Would it be so tough to provide low- or no-sodium alternatives, or simply offer salt shakers to allow everyone to customize their sodium consumption after a taste or two? I think not.

Maybe, like those concerned parents, all we have to do is ask.

I’m asking.

No comments: