Sprinkle with care

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Salt is the most common and readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. In fact, the supply of salt is inexhaustible. For thousands of years, salt (sodium chloride) has been used to preserve food and for cleaning, and people have continued to rely on it for all kinds of nifty tricks. There are a number of forms of salt produced for consumption (and by default, housekeeping!): unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. Kosher salt is sodium chloride processed to have flat crystals. Simple though it may seem, the common salt (sodium chloride) has a far more important role to play than just increase the palatability of your favorite dish.

A small pinch makes all the difference. Be it a gourmet dish or your humble dal-chawal, salt is the most essential ingredient. Simple though it may seem, the common salt (sodium chloride) has a far more important role to play than just increase the palatability of your favorite dish.

For one, it helps shift water from the insides of the cell to the outside.  It also maintains homeostasis — the normal fluid and electrolyte balance of the body. However, what you need to be wary of is the quantity you add  to your everyday curries and vegetables. Ekta Vora, clinical dietician with Gyneguide clinic, gives you the lowdown on the namak in your food.

Too much salt
When there’s more sodium in blood than necessary (hypernatremia), the body tries to throw it out by excretion. However, every individual has a certain threshold for excreting salt (called the renal threshold). When this limit is exceeded, the body tries to absorb more water which causes edema or swelling. This can then lead to hyper tension, high blood pressure and if undiagnosed, even kidney failure.

Too little salt
There is no risk if you have no medical problems. Though very low sodium levels (hyponatremia) can lead to dehydration, fatigue, muscle cramps and weakness. All of which can affect your heart.

So how do you reduce?
One gram of common salt (about 1/4th teaspoon) gives about 373 milligrams of sodium. Hence those suffering from hypertension, blood pressure or kidney diseases need to watch their salt intake. Depending on the problem, sodium restrictions are placed:
Mild sodium restriction – 3-4 gms  allowed in the entire day.
Moderate restriction – 1-3 gms
Severe restriction – 1 gm.

Foods to watch out for
Though there is no fixed standard  it’s believed in Indian food, one consumes about 4 gms-12 gms salt in a day. Of course, natural sources of sodium are not that concentrated as compared to sodium in processed foods. So if you are watching your diet, chuck processed foods from the shopping list first. Also, potassium is the antagonist for sodium. A high-potassium diet comprising fruits, vegetables, pulses and coconut water can correct levels of sodium.

While you may keep track of the salt you add in your dishes, you are often unaware of the indirect sources of salt. Check this list:
Indian cuisine: Papads, pickles and chutneys, dry farsaans (chivdas, kurmura), chips, sev-ganthia, puris, khari, puffs, butter biscuits, ketchups and sauces etc.
Western cuisine: Ready-to-eat soups, noodles, pasta, breads, pastries, packaged food etc.
Sald dressings: Anything that’s preserved in a bottle, like your mayo dressing, has more than necessary salt, sugar and fat.
Chinese food: Especially avoid “Indian Chinese;” they use loads of unhealthy sauces.
Some greens: Veggies like spinach, methi, etc., are natural sources of sodium. However, if you need to restrict your salt intake, it’s best to keep them away.

Sodium sources to avoid
Sodium is important, but you can easily avoid certain compounds to lead a healthier life. Watch out for the following in the list of ingredients the next time you go grocery shopping:

Monosodium glutamate (MSG or ajinomoto) — a seasoning used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods.
-Cooking soda — Used to increase  quantity, it gives you more sodium and kills the B Vitamin in veggies.
-Baking soda — Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used as alkaliser for indigestion.
-Baking powder — Helps breads and cakes rise.
-Sodium nitrite — Found in quick-cooking cereals, processed cheeses.
-Sodium alginate — Used in  chocolate milks and ice-creams to make a smooth mixture.
-Sodium benzoate — A preservative in relishes and salad dressings.

Healthy substitutes
If you suffer from any disease that demands you lower salt intake, don’t lose heart. There are substitutes available in the market.
-Lona salt: Has lesser amount of sodium, higher amount of potassium. But there’s a catch. If you have renal problems avoid this as you  need to watch your potassium levels.
-Black/rock salt: Has lesser amount of sodium than white salt.
-Lemon, tamarind, tomatoes and vinegar can be used for the tangy taste.
If you are watching your diet, check processed foods from your shopping list first.

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