The Dangers of Processed Food and Sodium
The Salt Conundrum
Salt as we know it is the combination of two different minerals – sodium and chloride.
Quite simply, we need salt to survive. Once upon a time, it was so valuable it was seen as a form of currency.
The reason for that is because it allowed food to keep for longer, allowing people to travel further.
It did this by drawing moisture out of the food, thereby preventing bacterial growth.
But how much salt is too much?
Salt and Hypertension
With growing obesity and cardiovascular disease rates facing most developed countries, it’s no surprise that countries are starting to pay attention to preventative health.
Quite simply, disease costs a lot of money in terms of medication and ongoing health care.
It simply makes sense to raise awareness of disease risk factors and salt intake is no different.
The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recommends salt intake be limited to 1.15 – 2.3 grams of salt.
Unfortunately, thanks to processed foods, most Australian adults have a daily salt intake of about 10 gram.
As a result, a ‘Suggested Dietary Target’ of 1600 mg of sodium (equivalent to about 4 grams of salt) has been set with the upper limit being set at 6g.
Salt is particularly harmful for blood pressure as it forces the body to retain more water, thereby raising blood pressure.
Furthermore, excess salt content forces the kidneys to excrete salt faster at a higher rate, increasing the risk for kidney disease.
Not All Salts are Equal
Table salt is often obtained through salt mines or purifying and processing sea water.
The result is nearly pure sodium chloride with anti-caking agents to ensure that the salt doesn’t clump.
In more recent times, governments have sought to include iodine (creating iodised salt) to prevent thyroid disorders.
Ironically, natural sea salt already contains trace minerals such as iodine, magnesium, zinc and manganese which are also needed for health.
The difference between table salt and natural sea salt depends on where the sea salt is harvested from.
Generally speaking, sea salt is “less salty” than its purified counterparts and the darker the salt, the more trace minerals within.
For example Celtic sea salt is often a greyish colour and contains a higher amount of water.
Another popular salt is Himalayan salt which is harvested in Pakistan.
The unique pink colour is the result of iron oxide. In terms of taste, it is often more subtle that table salt.
The Salt Addiction
Like most things, our brains are wired to have a reward system – taste buds can be trained to certain levels of sweet or salty.
As a result of salt being used to preserve food, we all have relatively high tolerances for food passed down to us from our ancestors.
The rise of processed food, being quick, cheap and readily available has only perpetuated that need for salt in industrialised countries.
The Dangers of Processed Foods
Otherwise known as a typical Western or Industrial Diet, this is unfortunately, a diet all too familiar for many people.
Our diets are a complex game of psychology and clever marketing.
Our appetites naturally lead us towards foods that will give us high energy (hence cravings for sweet, salty or fatty) and food manufacturers will exploit this.
Packaging is designed to fool us. Everything from colours, unrealistic food photography, font and serving size are all designed to appeal to our base desires.
So what does a typical Western, highly processed diet look like? Maybe something like this:
Breakfast: white coffee with sugar, cereal with milk or toast with jam
Morning Tea: biscuits with another coffee or tea, perhaps some fruit or nuts or a protein / nut bar
Lunch: burgers with chips and salad / schnitzel, wraps, sandwiches on white bread, pizza with soft drink
Afternoon Tea: chocolate, piece of cake / cookies with coffee / tea, piece of fruit
Dinner: pasta, rice, pizza, barbecued or fried meats, vegetables or salad
After Dinner: ice cream, chocolate, chips, yoghurt
You’ll notice that most of these are pre-made and packaged.
You may even think that’s a pretty balanced diet with the vegetables and the fruit. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
We are living in a time poor and nutritionally defunct society.
The impact it is having on our health is very real.
Everything from early onset puberty, infertility, obesity and cardiovascular disease can all be modified by our diet.
Remember, our diet is a chemical soup that has the ability to alter gene expression.
What To Avoid In Packaged Foods:
- High in corn syrup and palm oil – not only terrible for the environment (destruction of native habitat to grow palm trees has single handedly devastated habitat for thousands of animals), these highly inflammatory sugars can lead to insulin resistance, cholesterol issues and heart disease. Worst of all, they are empty calories – devoid of all nutritional goodness they just make you put on weight. Ditch them. Ditch them now.
- Preservatives – real food is designed to have a limited shelf life. Preservatives are chemicals that prevent food from spoiling and can often be quite challenging for the liver to process. In particular sulphites and sulphates which are used to preserve fruit can cause gastro irritation and bloating.
- Colorants – real food doesn’t need to look good. Just as our taste buds have become perverted, our visual sense of food has also been altered. Meat in butchers is often pumped with water and dye to make it more appealing.
- Flavour Enhancers – these chemicals are designed to enhance flavour by way of activating glutamate receptors in the brain. A prime example is MSG.
- Numbers – There are code apps and books available that break down what these numbers mean. As a general rule, numbers in food is not a great sign.
Making Healthier Changes
Take a look again at the the typical Western Diet and see if you could make the following changes:
- Change your breakfast: Start the day with steel cut rolled oats and Greek style low fat yoghurt. Jazz it up with some nuts and fruit. Ditch the coffee for green tea or plain water.
- Change the snacks to fruit, nuts or home-made oat or protein bars.
- Get back to basics – grow your own food where possible or buy food fresh from local growers markets.
- Ditch the salad dressings for olive oil or balsamic vinegar infusions.
- Remove salt shakers from the table and the kitchen, including salt in all its guises—sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, and all the expensive gourmet salts of various colours.
- Dress salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar without adding salt or salty dressings.
- Ditch the sodium chloride for sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- Cook food to conserve flavour and nutrients – stir frying and soups are great as they are time effective.
- Create your own flavour grinders. Add garlic and herbs to salt grinders to infuse food with more flavour.
- Read the information on food labels and avoid foods that have a sodium content higher than 120mg/100g
- Switch white foods out – think of breads, rice and pastas. Buy wholemeal or whole-grain to incorporate more fibre and B vitamins.