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121221chucknorriszEating food wouldn’t be much fun without salt, yet we are constantly being told to avoid it in our diets. You’ve always been a “salt of the earth” kind of guy, Chuck. Aren’t people getting a bit carried away with this avoidance thing? – “A Salty Dog” in South Carolina

You can turn to almost any TV cooking competition (and there sure seems to be no shortage of them out there), and the biggest mistake competitors can make is a lack of salt or seasoning in their dish. The odd part of this is that the next-biggest blunder according to the expert judges seems to be adding too much salt.

Maybe it’s time we give salt its due.

First, thank you for the “salt of the earth” remark. It is quite an honor to be seen this way. This popular saying has long been used in recognizing a good, hardworking and worthy person. I was always taught by my mother to be such a person. The origin of the saying comes from the Bible (Matthew 5:13). Jesus tells his disciples to be “the salt of the earth,” meaning that they should be a force in keeping men from the corruption of sin. It is a fitting reminder of the importance of the role salt has played throughout history as not only an essential element of a diet but also a cornerstone of economies, with food-preserving properties that have facilitated travel, exploration, trade and commerce. Most importantly, it has been a symbol.

It is a substance common to all cultures and ingrained in all manner of beliefs and rituals. There are more than 30 references to salt in the Bible. The New Testament contains many metaphors and parables using salt as a symbol of wisdom, incorruptibility, eternity and alliance between God and man. In Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” Judas has just spilled a bowl of salt – a portent of evil and bad luck. This has led to a tradition that compels many of us when we spill salt to throw a pinch over our left shoulder – an act that was originally designed to ward off any devils that may be lurking behind. According to SaltWorks, in Buddhist tradition, salt is used to repel evil spirits. A gift of salt in India is still seen as a symbol of good luck.

To this day, before sumo wrestlers enter the ring for a match, a handful of salt is thrown into the center to drive off malevolent spirits, in accordance with the Shinto religion. If you need any more convincing of the historical importance of this product, when you cash your next paycheck, know that the word “salary” is derived from the word “salt” in homage to its power as an ancient form of currency. During the reign of the Roman Empire, soldiers were paid with sacks of salt.

However, none of this knowledge can change the fact that consumption of too much salt is bad for your health and that lowering your intake of salt (sodium) can help you in lowering your weight and disease risk.

According to a Cleveland Clinic report, most people can consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day without health issues. A milligram is a metric unit of mass. But some people – especially those who are older than 50 or who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease – should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams daily. That is easier said than done.

Passing the saltshaker at the table may help some people control their intake, but almost 80 percent of the salt in American diets comes from processed and packaged foods. High on our watch list should be frozen, canned and preprocessed foods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six popular foods with high sodium content we need to be especially vigilant about are:

  1. Bread and rolls. One piece can have up to 230 milligrams of sodium.
  2. Pizza. One slice can have up to 760 milligrams of sodium.
  3. Cold cuts and cured meats. Just two slices of bologna contain 578 milligrams of sodium.
  4. Poultry. Especially those pesky chicken nuggets. Just 3 ounces has nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.
  5. Canned soups. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 milligrams of sodium.
  6. Sandwiches. When you consider the bread, cured meats, processed cheese and condiments, sandwiches can easily surpass 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

As noted in the Cleveland Clinic report, nearly 75 percent of the snacks and meals marketed to toddlers today are high in sodium. Researchers at the American Heart Association analyzed more than 1,100 such prepackaged foods and found the average sodium content to be 210 milligrams or more per serving. It has been shown that kids who have a high-sodium diet are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure as kids who have low-sodium diets.

As explained in a Harvard Medical School paper, in most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds on to water to dilute the sodium. This means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure.

The study goes on to say that people with the highest sodium intakes had a 20 percent higher risk of death from any cause than people with the lowest sodium intakes.

Say no more.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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