Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Make that salt mine

It would be easy to think, based on general media coverage, that salt was one of the biggest enemies you can face in the search for a healthy diet.

Funnily enough, my mother – who, as a physiotherapist, had first to undertake basic nursing training – has always found the advice on cutting salt to be contrary to what they were told.

The thinking then was that you would consume as much salt as your body required.

Of course, that was at the end of the 1940s and was before these halcyon days of vast amounts of processed foods stuffed with hidden salts and sugars.

Indeed, a few years ago, I read comments from a GP who was visited by a lady who was worried about her husband.

He apparently put what she thought was a lot of salt on his meal at dinner.

The doctor stressed that that was not a problem: the problem was those hidden salts.

Now I eat very little processed food. And I’m careful about how much I use in cooking – some in, say, casseroles etc, and some in potatoes, pasta or rice, but little else. I’d rather add later – sometimes as a specific garnish, as the French do with fleur de sel.

However, in the last week, there have been no starchy carbs – the weather ensures I have no inclination for them. So, a pretty much perfect diet from the perspective of salt advice.

Yesterday, an hour or so after a light lunch – some left-over boerevors and salad – I felt exhausted; really shattered.

The germ of an idea occurred to me.

I’d had no caffeine for several days, as a measure against dehydration in this hot weather (and I am not complaining about the weather, by the way).

I’d also been making more than usually sure that I was drinking plenty of water – probably little less than two litres by that stage yesterday afternoon.

So, all-round sensible stuff, combined with not spending too much time in the direct sun.

The inkling was really quite simple, although on the surface, slightly less sensible. I suddenly had the sense that I wanted – no: that I needed – salt, so I picked up a bag of ‘salty and sweet’ popcorn, into which I tossed extra salt, together with a can of diet Pepsi for the zip of some caffeine.

Half an hour later, I felt restored.

It seems that, in being so careful, I’d probably flushed away vital salts and minerals over the course of a few days, and not replenished these.

It’s easy to forget, given media coverage of health issues, that salt is essential to our good health.

We need it. It is not an optional extra. We don’t need sugar. But we do need salt.

And perhaps, because I usually have some caffeine in a day, my body was objecting to none.

So today, some caffeine, and a pot of cottage cheese for lunch, to which could be added salt – indeed, it’s bland enough that it benefits fro that, and a twist of pepper. Fruit to follow and plenty more water – this should be more balanced.

In the evening, Nigel Slater’s quick version of that Moroccan classic, chicken with lemons and olives. No rice, but a little salt in the cooking of this, plus, of course, the natural saltiness of the olives.

And at 8pm, I'm still feeling quite lively.

I can’t help but wonder, though, how many other people are experiencing anything similar.

A thought occurs. Some years ago, we were in Barcelona and The Other Half got a mild case of sun stroke. We only really realised when, later that day, he was exhausted and without an appetite, but found himself licking salt off his finger in a restaurant.

Somehow, he realised, with a salt cellar in front of him, that he needed it - and he's not a salt head.

My mother's tutors were probably right. What has changed, I suspect, is simply that the quantity of salt shovelled into processed foods has changed the equation. We need salt. Our bodies know it - and processed food exploits that.

Doesn't make the behaviour of the food industry any nicer, does it?

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