i grew up on Old Bay. if you have never had steamed blue crabs caked with Old Bay and felt the burn in your fingers where the claws nick them open, you should try it. it’s so good. and it’s crazy salty. which i love. in addition to loving every kind of sea salt i know.
but ive been interning at the NYC Department of Health on their national salt reduction media campaign, which sounds impossibly bossy and automatically gets the “but i love salt!” response whenever i tell people about it. and because i agree, this post is about salt. and what’s good about it. and what is bad about too much of it.
fun stats! about 77% of the salt in the average american diet is from processed, packaged, and prepared food. something like 12% occurs naturally in food, and only 11% or so is from people adding salt to food they cook themselves. so hit the salt shaker as much as you want. really.
what isn’t fine is all those P’s - processed, packaged, prepared. this goes way beyond fast food. if you’re someone who lives on a combination of restaurants, take-out, frozen dinners, crackers, cereal, canned soups, the prepared foods section your local grocery store, stuff that comes in shrink-wrap or cardboard, and even Pinkberry, then even if it says organic all over it, it’s probably still jammed with hidden salt.
here is the short on why too much salt is a problem. think of salt as the pied piper, and water as the village children. water follows salt blindly. so the more salt you eat, the more water you retain to keep the balance of salt to water in your blood in a good spot. your body keeps this in close check - too little salt in your blood, or too much, and you could have a seizure.
your kidneys are in charge of maintaining this balance. if you eat more salt, they hold onto more water. and more water means more volume for your heart to push around.
over time your heart and your blood vessels beef up to handle all that extra volume. they get thick, and crusty, and dysfunctional, and this leads to strokes, heart attacks, kidney disease and all the stuff your doctors and the government worry about. actually you should worry about it too, because thick junky hearts and vessels don’t work very well and make you feel like crap.
the point is, in the long run it’s fine if you eat a lot of salt once in a while, like the classic eggy, bacony brunch that satisfies your hangover, but if more of your diet than not consists of the processed/prepared stuff i mentioned before, your salt load is through the roof all the time.
my answer to this situation is cooking your own food. you have control that way, and it’s way cheaper!