Salt – we love it but it hates us!

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First of all, some relevant facts:  Salt contains sodium which is an essential nutrient that maintains our water balance as well as our blood pressure.  Salt also helps regulate muscle and nerve activity, so, yes…. we need it, but not as much as we’re consuming.  The recommended limit is about 6g (1 tsp daily) – less for children – but the UK is currently estimated to be consuming around 8.5g salt daily.You say you’re not adding that teaspoon to meals?

Hmmm, you don’t need to.  According to research papers [He and MacGregor, 2009, Journal of Human Hypertension; & SACN, 2003 ‘Salt and Health’] about 70-80% of our daily salt intake is already in our foods.  Breads, cereals, ready meals , canned food products and snacks are all the obvious culprits.And this is why salt is a very real health problem.   We’re consuming it daily without even realizing it.Not only is salt intake a major risk factor in high blood pressure & cardiovascular disease (the latter still being the leading cause of death worldwide), it’s high intake is also linked to stomach cancer (irritates the gut lining a.o.), oedema and kidney disease.  It can also cause osteoporosis because high salt leads to high urinary loss of calcium which in turn leads to our body compensating for this loss by drawing calcium from our bones.

Look at this salty list on the NHS ‘Choices’ website:  ham, cheese, bacon, olives, pickles, prawns, anchovies, salami, soy sauce, stock cubes, yeast extract, smoked fish, smoked meat, gravy granules… and of course salted nuts and crisps.  A lot of these foods may not be obvious salt sources to everyone.  And even sweet snack foods are on the list because the food industry knows that taste buds love sweet ‘n salty!

The following too can also be high in salt:  tomato ketchup, takeaways, pasta sauces, bread products (like ciabattas or bagels), pizzas, ready meals and soups.

The word ‘salt’ is invariably not listed on labels, however ‘sodium’ may be.  But sodium isn’t salt, it’s just part of it.  In fact 1 g sodium is 2.5g salt…which is a lot more salt intake in a given food than we may have realized.

Is there any good news about all this?

Firstly eating less of any processed snack will be a great start.  Unsalted nuts and seeds or a piece of fruit because really it does seem as though most snack foods contain salt (apart from, for example, salt-free crisps – but those are deep fried and full of trans fats which is another topic for another time).
And if we cook more from scratch we will be in charge of how much salt goes in the pot.
Checking labels is another obvious step.  Choose the canned or packaged goods with the lowest salt or sodium content.

The really good news however is that as our salt intake drops, our salt taste receptors in the mouth adapt.  After 1-2 months we won’t miss it at all!

Environmental toxins – reducing exposure

 

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Eat organic where possible – especially when it comes to meats, eggs, dairy produce and grains.  Whatever you do, wash all food well before eating or cooking.
Check out the appleaday facebook post from a couple of days ago, regarding the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ ;  or google ‘Dirty Dozen’ and find out which foods you should really buy organic due to their very high toxic load.

Avoid processed foods, especially those with added colourings, sweeteners and flavourings… I realize most of you are well aware of this however it’s a useful reminder for all to check labels of any canned or bottled foods in the house.  And in this context of ‘clean living’, it simply must be mentioned J

Be aware of the water you’re drinking.  Possible contaminants include small amounts of pharmaceuticals, hormones, nitrates, lead….  Filter your water.  Take a look at multi-stage carbon filters or reverse osmosis filters

Reduce intake of soft-plastic-container bottled water.  Chemicals from the plastics often leach into the water – try glass bottles, or fill up a hard plastic drinking container with your home filtered water.

Avoid sipping your takeaway hot drink through the plastic lid.  And avoid using plastics in the microwave – ensure that any plastic containers you use for storage are free from bisphenol A (‘plastic’ blog will soon appear…)

Replace any Teflon cook and bake ware with uncoated glass, clay, stone or enamel versions

Minimise the use of cling wraps and aluminium foil.  A quick solution for storing left overs, but keep hard plastic storage boxes, and if you do use cling film try to avoid contact with the food it is covering in the bowl.  Best choice is to use glass or hard bisphenol A-free containers.
When baking use an oven container with a lid, or wrap the fish or chicken in baking paper or parchment paper instead of aluminium foil – works a treat.  Some origami in the kitchen, making a slightly loose parcel (ends however firmly closed to ensure no leakage)  and then using a wooden ‘skewer’ to keep it packed.

Avoid eating larger oily fish eg swordfish, tuna, marlin and shark, due to their higher levels of mercury and chemical pollutants compared to smaller fish.  The larger and older the fish, the more toxins they will have accumulated over the years.
Think ‘small fish with big eyes’, a teacher once told me as they live at greater depths (where one hopes the toxins will be more dispersed); being smaller, they will have less heavy metals, plastics etc stored in their bodies.  Wild salmon is a great choice, so keep an eye on offers at supermarkets or your fish supplier – and stock up.

When cooking avoid high temperatures – you don’t want food to be ‘smoking’ and certainly don’t want to eat burnt foods.  Bar-b-qs sadly are not on the healthy list – avoid whilst on a clean-eating, detox week – and otherwise enjoy in moderation – and eat less of those crispy charred bits…

Polyunsaturated fats should not be heated as they are more volatile than heated saturated or monounsaturated fats and therefore more prone to molecular structure changes which are now considered potentially carcinogenic.

Cooking with a monounsaturated oil is usually the advice given – although this is still a hotly discussed topic, as a lot of the beneficial nutrients in, say, virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated oil, will be cooked away (my suggestion: cook with it, and add a slurp of uncooked with your salad!  Difficult for many given the cost, so again, check out offers – there’s usually a virgin olive oil on sale at our local supermarket.  Stock up!)
Coconut oil is a saturated plant fat which, when heated, will not change its molecular structure to the detriment of your health.  There are loads of testimonials about the fantastic health benefits, and I personally love the taste of anything cooked in it;  claimed to be safer than heating animal-based saturated fats like butter however, again, there are opposing opinions on this.  Some CV doctors/nurses say all saturated fats aredetrimental to arteries and heart health – then there are in vitro studies showing massive overall health benefits including improved cholesterol.  Eat in moderation is my current recommendation.

I would  welcome hearing of results of large-scale research studies, preferably in vivo, on coconut oil so do please share any information on this 🙂

Environmental considerations:

Avoid pesticides or herbicides in your home or garden

Avoid aluminium-containing antiperspirants and antacids – huge links to breast cancer.

Have second-thoughts about water proofing or flame proofing furniture coverings and clothes – you can have severe reactions.

Check out natural carpets or hardwoods instead of the standard carpeting which is treated with chemicals

Hair products and skin care:  look for those without added alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate, phthalates, parabens or other petrochemicals – look at www.essential-care.co.uk or numerous other natural beauty product sites

Use paints labelled low or no VOC. Various finishes and paints release low-level toxic emissions into the air even years after application – these VOCs (volatile organic compounds) may have short and long-term adverse health effects

Control the dust, mould and bacteria in your home.  Wet wipe, check out home air filters or ionisers…and adopt some indoor plants!

Go natural with cleaning products – make your own (I’ll post some tips about this later as a facebook blog and sometime next week on another website blog) Green People and Ecover are very good but there are now lots of fab choices to be made.www.naturalcollection.com is good to look around

Avoid heavy traffic for long periods of time – yes of course this is NOT always easy to control, however if you can pick your time to travel, avoid work/school traffic times…and if you go for a walk,  stride across fields, parks or small lanes, rather than walking on busier roads and breathing in car fumes. Another addition to your toxic load.

Avoid smoking and smokers….apologies if this sounds trite!  Such a huge subject in a mere sentence however it is too well known to labour the point.  We all know the facts, we’ve seen the packaging change from outdoorsie Malboro man to health warning signs and plain labelling. Smoking is a highly addictive habit and hence difficult for many to just drop.  There are lots of books to google, tapes to buy.  Hypnotherapy and psychotherapy can both be fabulous.
But in the end, it’s up to the smoker ….and those in the vicinity, inhaling a smoker’s puffs!

Electromagnetic fields are shown now to affect more and more people, not just very sensitive allergic individuals.
Restrict mobile phone use (turn off inbetween – it also limits how many ‘quick’ texts you send which can actually wait until later).   Turn off other electrical equipment when not in use and certainly limit the amount of electrical equipment in the bedroom.  T.V.s may be great company but apart from the electrical aspect of sleeping in a room full of equipment (computer, phones, electric alarms…what else?), all those little red and green lights can disturb sleepzzzzzzz.