Salt: That which, when you don’t put it in food, it makes it taste bad.
Many of us agree. Salt is easily the most popular seasoning. There’s a good reason for this: Salt is an essential nutrient; without it we’ll die. But just as Americans “know” that fat is bad for them, they “know” that salt is bad for them. The standard wisdom, parroted over and over again, is that limiting fat and salt intake will lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, and improve health in general.
It just ain’t so.
Studies done in the 1980s did show that ethnic groups with the lowest salt intakes had the lowest blood pressure – but then, those groups included New Guinea islanders and Indians living in the Amazon rainforest. It’s unrealistic to compare these groups to people in industrialized societies and pick out salt as the defining factor in blood pressure levels.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, salt restriction lowers blood pressure in some subjects, leaves it unaffected in most, and in still other subjects actually raises blood pressure. (Case in point: That Nice Boy I Married, who has run slightly elevated blood pressure, yet has tested twice as hyponatremic – having unhealthily low blood sodium.) This makes the blanket recommendation of salt restriction an iffy practice, to say the least. It appears that – just as with every other substance – some people are sensitive to salt, and some are not. In the salt-sensitive group, salt restriction makes some sense, but for most people is actually dangerous.
The American Journal of Medicine published a study regarding salt intake in 2006, looking at 7,154 people over 13 years. It found that those who restricted their salt intake to the government-recommended 2300 mgs per day or less were 37% more likely to have died of heart disease. The less salt people ate, the greater the rate of heart disease. No group was found to benefit from salt restriction.
Turns out salt influences a lot of body processes.
Dr. Michael Alderman, Professor of Medicine and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has stated that lowering salt intake can cause hormonal changes that damage arteries, causing heart disease. Too, there’s some evidence that sodium restriction raises insulin levels and increases insulin resistance, which contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure. Lowering insulin levels by limiting carbs is a far more sensible approach than salt restriction.
Usually a high sodium diet is a diet of processed foods, short on fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and the nutrients they provide, especially potassium and calcium, vital to healthy blood pressure. I’m no fan of most processed foods, but I see no reason why you should leave salt out of home cooking, or skip the salt shaker at the table. That being said, I don’t use standard grocery store salt at home. Why?
It’s a refined food. For centuries, salt came from sea water, and supplied dozens of trace minerals. Not only is grocery store salt missing those trace minerals, it also often has noxious additives, including aluminum compounds, and even dextrose, a sugar. I use mined ancient seabed salt. This is rock salt that was deposited billions of years ago when ancient oceans went dry. I prefer this to evaporated sea salt because ancient seabed salt was deposited before the oceans were polluted. I use a brand called “Real Salt,” but any mined sea salt should be fine. Check your health food store or gourmet grocery.
Good salt is more expensive than standard salt; I pay about $6.50 for 1.6 pounds. But since I go through perhaps two to three packages a year, the overall expense is not great, and I consider it an investment in my health. It also tastes better than standard salt. If you’re thinking “Oh, c’mon, salt is salt,” all I can say is “Try it.”
My sister Kim, who tested this recipe, rated a 12 – on the 1-10 scale! It’s a good source of potassium and calcium, both of which will do good things for your blood pressure, and your health in general.
Fennel With Parmesan
- 3 large fennel bulbs, or 4 medium
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
Trim the stalks off the fennel and discard (or save those tasty leaves for another recipe!) Trim the very base of the bulbs, too. Now halve ’em lengthwise, and slice ’em lengthwise about 1/2″ thick.
Spray your big, heavy skillet with non-stick cooking spray, and put it over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the shallot and garlic. Saute for a minute or two. Now add the thyme and the fennel, and mix everything up well.
Sprinkle with the salt, and add the chicken broth. Cover the pan, turn the burner to medium-low, and cook for 30 minutes, uncovering every 5 minutes or so for a good stir.
When the 30 minutes are up, uncover the skillet, turn the burner back up to medium, and let it cook for 5 minutes or so to evaporate off some of the liquid.
Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the Parmesan, and serve.
4 servings each with: 130 Calories; 7g Fat; 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber
© 2011 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.