Salis Est Vita

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All your emulation centers on the saltworks; instead of ploughs and scythes, you work rollers whence comes all your gain. Upon your industry all other products depend for, although there may be someone who does not seek gold, there never yet lived the man who does not desire salt…

–Cassidorus, A.D. 523, writing of Venice

We’ve considered the importance of salt in history and the basic physiological process that need salt. Clearly salt is not a poison that we should avoid at all costs. The big question is how much salt is necessary, and how much salt is too much. Will eating salt drive up my blood pressure?

Let’s start with the last question. Does it drive up blood pressure? Well…yes and no. Does salt play a role in blood pressure regulation? Absolutely yes. But oxygen plays a role in house fires. You can’t burn to death in your bedroom without plenty of oxygen around; but that doesn’t mean you should hermetically seal your home and try to keep oxygen levels to the bare minimum needed for survival. It would be much more effective to stop smoking in bed or using that twenty-five-year old electric blanket.

 So there’s no disputing that salt plays a role of some kind in the process of blood pressure regulation. In studies like this one, 51% of people with hypertension showed a higher sensitivity to salt, while only 26% of non-hypertensives showed that kind of sensitivity.

SO! Salt does drive up blood pressure! I told you! Pass the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Salt.

Wait just a second, because that’s not the whole story.

The whole story is that while we have an association and even a correlation between high salt intakes and higher blood pressure, we don’t have a corresponding association or correlation between a low-salt diet and success in lowering blood pressure or saving lives. Drastic reductions in salt result in only meager reductions in blood pressure and no enhancement of life expectancy. What good is a slightly lower blood pressure if you’re not going to live any longer? This suggests that something other than salt is at play in our high blood pressure problems: something that people in industrialized nations, who tend to consume a lot of salt, experience or do that people in non-industrialized nations tend not to do or experience.

The whole story is that there is a very wide range of sodium intakes around the world, and these do not correspond with average blood pressure levels.

The whole story is that we have found people groups with very low sodium intakes who also have very low blood pressure, but then find that the connection is meaningless. Most famous of these groups are the Yonamami Indians of the Amazon, who have very low blood pressure even into old age. Great, huh? They’re non-industrialized, and if we’ve learned anything from our politically correct educations in the last couple decades, it is that there is no greater evil in the world than industrialization. The problem is that there are other non-industrialized native peoples who also have really low salt intakes. Over in Panama are the Kuna, another traditional tribe with very low salt intake and very low blood pressure. The problem is that when some of the Kuna got all stupid and adapted to an evil modern diet, they started ingesting gobs and gobs of salt: yet they didn’t get high blood pressure. Nothing else about their lives changed–just their diets.

When your theory is that all dogs are black, and then you see a roan dog, what do you do with your theory? You throw it out. The Kuna are our roan dogs. When your theory is that it’s their low salt intake that gives them low blood pressure, and then you give them lots of salt and yet their blood pressure stays low, what do you do with your theory? You throw it out. Clearly something else is keeping their blood pressure low. Yet it is largely because of the Kuna and the Yonamani that “official” guidelines tell you to reduce your salt intake.

And speaking of the Yonamani Indians, yeah…they’ve got nice, low blood pressure on their low-sodium diet. They also aren’t fat. They ingest high levels of fiber. They eat little saturated fat. They’re very physically active. They don’t drink alcohol at all. They have low stress levels, as we measure stress in our society. In other words, they’re poster children for the vegetarian-back-to-earth-naturopathic lifestyle.

They also have a life expectancy of 29-46 years. Oops. Read all about it here.

The whole story is that there are dozens of other things that affect your blood pressure just as much as salt ever will, and sometimes more. Yet none of them have been demonized like salt, or lionized proportionally to salt’s degradation:

1. Potassium. Drastic reduction in sodium results in an average of 5ish points reduction in your systolic blood pressure and 3ish in your diastolic. Getting enough potassium resulted in a 7ish and 2ish, respectively. As good or better than salt–yet you can find “low-sodium” everything on every store shelf and every menu, and no “high-potassium!” to correspond. (Want to have your mind blown? Studies have proved that it is physically impossible for a human being to simultaneously meet the USDA’s guidelines for sodium and potassium. Next time some idiotic reporter drones on about Americans not meeting either their sodium or their potassium guidelines–like here–just ignore her. Or write to Caroline and explain to her that 99.9% of Americans fail to meet the guidelines because IT’S IMPOSSIBLE.)

2. Zinc.  Zinc’ll get you coming and going. Even a small deficiency in zinc has a demonstrable effect in raising blood pressure, though we don’t yet know why. More likely to be your problem, too much zinc also raises your blood pressure. Why do I say this is more likely to be your problem? Well you’re taking a multivitamin, right? You’re just taking that generic one to save money, so that’s got 11mg of zinc in it. That’s the RDA for men: but for women the RDA is only 8mg. That means you women are already getting more than you need right there. That wouldn’t be so bad by itself if you weren’t also eating some kind of super–healthy whole grain breakfast cereal, fortified with zinc: and the skim milk has some, too. You’re getting another 3.3mg there. Then you want to be healthy, of course, so you eat all these superfoods that are also really high in zinc: like spinach, salmon, kidney beans, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, garlic, lima beans, the Other White Meat, dark chocolate, chick peas, brown rice, peas, cashews, and mushrooms. Healthy!

3. Alcohol. While every magazine touts the benefits of that one glass of red wine twice a week, regular over-consumption has just as strong an association with high blood pressure as salt.

4. Every Other Food On The Planet. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but there are studies associating vitamin C, coffee, wine, tea, blueberries and any other thing that has flavonoids in it with lower blood pressure.

5. Regular Exercise of Any Kind. Aerobic or anaerobic. Weightlifting for ten minutes a week or swimming for 120 or walking or cycling or anything: all are associated with drops in blood pressure. Just get yourself out of the house/office once in a while and DO something.

6. Petting Your Dog. That’s right. Have a look at this study. It didn’t matter if the dog was yours or not. It didn’t even matter if you liked dogs or not. Petting one will still lower your blood pressure. Why? It seems to be because petting a dog lowers anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol and causing your brain to release serotonin. Why petting a dog does that I couldn’t say: but as Louis Sabin once said, “Even the tiniest poodle is lionhearted, ready to do anything to defend home, master and mistress. No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.” You want to really lower your blood pressure? Throw out that NoSalt and get yourself a retriever.

The whole story is that a low-salt diet is far more closely associated with health risks than with health benefits. If you’re hypertensive, with a blood pressure of, say 156 over 95, is getting all the way down to 151 over 92 really worth the dangers of chronically low sodium intake? Is it even worth denying yourself the enjoyment of salted food? Let’s see…

1. Here a low-salt diet–just for seven days–increased insulin resistance in the participants. Oh dear. That’s diabetes risk right there–and we all know how good diabetes is for your heart.

2. These folks had lots of fun in their study. Here they found that drastic reductions of sodium had an small effect on those with hypertension and almost no effect on those without hypertension. You might be thinking Oh well if I’ve got hypertension then I should go for it! But before you do that read the whole study and look at how the low-salt dieters, in addition to slightly lowering their blood pressure, also got to enjoy elevated triglycerides, higher LDL counts, and increases in the stress hormones coursing through their bodies.

3. The Gov’Mint wants you to restrict your sodium to 1,500mg per day. Which is odd, since this study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that while those eating over 7,000mg a day were at greater risk of having a heart event than those eating less, those taking in less than 3,000mg a day were at even great risk–not just of having heart attacks, but of dying from them. The sweet spot of good health was between about 4,500 and 6,000mg. 4,500mg people. That’s a lot of salt. Chances are you aren’t ingesting that much.

I said in the last post that we’d talk about why you need more salt on a low carbohydrate diet, and we will next time. We’ll also look at what kind of sodium intake you’re getting if you’re eating real, healthy food. In the meantime, enjoy some salt on your food. If you’re still worried, here are a few more studies about the dangers of a low-sodium diet, the lack of connection between sodium intake and future hypertension, and the positive effects of a high-sodium diet.

And I recommend this salt. It’s awesome:

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Salty Dog Blues

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Let me be your salty dog

Or I won’t be your man at all

Honey, let me be your salty dog.

Salty Dog Blues, the Morris Brothers version

I’ve been meaning to get to salt for a while and finally it’s time. Salt is an enormous issue in the world of food. Some people view salt crystals as little granules of plague; other people view it as a life-saver. There’s also confusion about salt and sodium. Simply put, salt is sodium and chloride together. 1g of salt has about 394g of sodium. As is usual here at askmehowithappened, we’re going to preface our discussion by just coming right out and saying it:

1. Salt is absolutely essential, and it is very hard to eat too much of it if you’re eating real food.

2. There is very poor evidence linking a high sodium diet to heart disease; there is mounds of evidence that a low sodium diet does nothing whatsoever to help your blood pressure problems.

3. You are much more at risk from a low sodium diet than from a high sodium one.

So let’s talk about the evidence, and of course before we do that we’ll have to talk about the history. This is partly because I like history, but mostly because history tells us that our current fear of salt is irrational.

The Importance of Salt in History

Salt has always been an indispensable part of human life. Salt was once a commodity of trade so important that the history of it reads like our current international machinations over oil. People were concerned about “dependence on foreign salt.” Nations with good salt deposits relied on them to conquer the world. Salt was more important than any other single commodity. Take China as an example.

In Chinese legend, the mythical emperor Huangdi presided over the first war for salt, and archeological evidence shows huge settlements, some of the most ancient ever found in the world, surrounding Lake Yuncheng, where salt was harvested every summer. Then there was Li Bing, governor of Sichuan province in 250 BC. He was one of the world’s greatest hydraulic engineering geniuses; so much so that he has attained semi-deification in China. He presided over the building of a dam that so changed the flood plains of Sichuan that the province became a premier agricultural center: the “Land of Abundance” in ancient records. Li Bing also lived during a crossroads in China’s history, when centuries of fighting had finally ended with a unified China. This new nation was embroiled in a debate about government, and this debate was influenced heavily by salt.

Governments of Chinese states had taxed salt for centuries. Records of such taxes go back as far as the twentieth century BC. The debate in question was between Confucionists and Legalists. The latter believed in very practical ideas for the furtherance of government (and lining their own pockets). One of their big ideas was to fix the price of salt higher than the purchase price, so that the state could import salt and sell it at a profit. Says the Guanzi, a book of economic advice said to be written by a minister at the time:

Even though we have not produced it ourselves, [meaning salt] we can take advantage of other states to make profits by regulating the price…Imagine that you were going to issue an order as follows: “I am going to collect head money upon all of you people, both adults and children.” They would certainly remonstrate loudly and angrily against you. However, if you take firm control over the policy on salt, the people cannot manage to dodge it even though you are going to take a profit of one hundred times over.

The minister goes on to say that people in areas without salt are ill from the lack of it; therefore they would be desperate enough to pay anything for it. He estimated the annual intake of salt for a Chinese man to be 5 1/2 sheng, which (a long calculation; won’t go into it here) was equal to 2,546,392 mg of sodium. That, if you’re keeping track, is almost 7,000mg of sodium a day. Women typically needed 4 1/2 sheng and children 2 1/2.

Stop and think about that for a second. 7,000mg PER DAY.

Coincidentally, this news article references recent studies showing that 7,000mg and 3,000mg are the thresholds. Go over 7,000 and you are more likely to have a heart attack. Go under 3,000 and it’s even more dangerous. Now you aren’t just more likely to have the attack, you’re more likely to die from it. If the ancient Chinese were any indication, that research is spot on, and ancient Chinese men naturally consumed around 6,900mg, the women around 5,500 and the children around 3,000.

Salt was just as important everywhere else. Similar stories could be repeated from ancient Egypt and Europe. Every nation used it to cure meats and fish and to create extremely salty sauces and pickled products to be added to every meal. In 1912 the American psychologist Ernest Jones said:

In all ages salt has been invested with a significance far exceeding that inherent in its natural properties, interesting and important as these are. Homer calls it a divine substance, Plato describes it as especially dear to the gods, and we shall presently note the importance attached to it in religious ceremonies, covenants, and magical charms. That this should have been so in all parts of the world and in all times shows that we are dealing with a general human tendency and not with any local custom, circumstance or notion.

Jones then goes on to explain his idiotic Freudian theory that salt=sex, and at this point we abandon him in pursuit of the sane. But up to that point he’s quite right about the importance of salt. What Ernest didn’t know back in 1912 was that he had underestimated the natural properties of salt, and the immense human need for it.

The Importance of Salt in You

Your heart right now contains enough sodium to fill three or four average saltshakers, and bodily processes are constantly depleting this store, which must be made up. Without it, you can’t breathe or digest, your heart can’t beat properly, you can’t move your muscles, nor can you transport nutrients, oxygen or nerve signals.

How much sodium you need to ingest in salt form depends on what you do, where you live and what you eat. If you live in a hot, sweaty climate you need a lot more salt than those who live in temperate or cool regions. If you spend the whole day in the office, you need a lot less than someone lifting bales of hale. Red meat contains quite a bit of sodium naturally: enough that those who eat an all meat diet (including organs and bones, and sometimes blood) appear to get all the sodium they need from it. But vegetables have almost none, and they contain a lot of potassium, which easily becomes imbalanced without enough salt. When any society has switched from being nomadic herding or hunting to settling down to agriculture, they soon had to go hunting for salt sources.

When you don’t have enough salt, you first get headaches. Then you feel tired and light-headed. Then you get nauseous. Then you black out. If you drop below an intake of 500mg in a day, you die. Most Americans on a standard American diet don’t ever feel these things because they ingest so much sodium in packaged, processed food. But if you switch to all fresh, real food you may easily start to have issues. Furthermore, if you are eating a low carb diet you need even more salt to avoid headaches, fatigue and nausea. We’ll talk about why in our next post.

Death March

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The sky is high, the clouds are pale,
We watch the wild geese vanish southward.
If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men.

–Mao Zedong (Mount Liupan)

Over the last few years I have heard and read a lot of people who insist that exercise is dependent upon carbohydrates to some degree or another. Some of them will assert that this is the case for just about any exercise other than taking a leisurely stroll, such as these guys at the bodybuilders.com website:

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Yoiks and Away!

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–Daffy Duck

 

I keep meaning to write about salt, and then I get busy and before I can I see insanity like what I’m about to share with you today. I feel constantly compelled to write about it lest someone be fooled by it. Of course no one is actually reading my blog and thousands of people are reading these articles, so it’s much like hoping you can stop a tornado with a really powerful desk fan.

First in the WAIT JUST A COTTON-PICKIN’ MINUTE category we have this headline: N.J., Del, still getting fatter, says report; Pa already is. (Any of you who work in editing might be advised to calm down. Don’t smack the desk with your head. It’ll only hurt.) Now first, weren’t we just told a few months ago that we’re not getting fatter anymore? That we’d reached Maximum Fatness? More importantly…are these people serious?!?!? Here’s the explanation from the brain trust behind this study:

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Mass Confusion

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Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

There are many confusing things in the world today. Just scroll through the headlines.

I know I’m confused. For example, I’m confused about why anyone cares if Alec Baldwin yelled at someone again? And I’m really perplexed about why anyone with the sense God gave a squirrel–celebrity or not–would take a picture of themselves naked and then put it into a “cloud” of digital information that is out of their own control. Why are people confused that nations that have been enemies for all of their existence are shooting at and invading one another? And those are just the first three questions that popped into my head after scanning this morning’s headlines.

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I’m Ok, You’re Ok

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When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.
― Dale Carnegie

(How to Win Friends and Influence People)

Every morning I get a slew of articles on health. I read them when I have time, which unfortunately is not often these days. But today there were several that were just too good to pass up. To start us off right, let’s read about this poor woman:

Lindsey Averill spent most of her life thinking things would be better if she could just get skinnier. She counted calories and worked out, but still couldn’t reach the size she wanted, the one she saw on TV and in magazines.

The point of this part of the article is that Lindsey, after 20 years of trying unsuccessfully to get thin, has finally given up. Instead of trying to be thin, she’s decided to love herself as she is and is making a movie about it.

Called “Fattitude,” the movie, slated to be finished in 2015, is aimed at exposing discrimination against overweight people in pop culture and in daily life. It’s also meant to teach people that they can embrace their bodies at any size.

I’ve called this woman “poor” and I’d like to explain what I mean by that: this is sad. What’s sad isn’t that she’s happy with her size or that she’s making a movie. What’s sad is that she’s been trying for 20 years to get smaller–using all the advice given her by conventional nutrition and diet wisdom–and has utterly failed. What does this tell us?

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More and More Recipes

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 Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.

–Voltaire

 

Hungry? I am, so let me tell you about the dinner I had last night.  It started, as most of my meals start, with looking in the refrigerator. Sometimes I eat something because I crave it, but I rarely crave things anymore. As a result, my creativity doesn’t spark till I look to see what I have and think let’s do something with that beef besides just eat it as steak.

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