Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Salt - the King of Taste and Emperor of Diseases

A friend who happened to be a chef in a five star hotel wrote me asking, why Dr. Mantena and his followers are making a taboo on salt, sugar, oil, ghee, masalas, red chili powder and tamarind etc. which are the delicacies to enjoy? He added that they are being used for hundreds and thousands of years and we are not using them new; then why all this taboo? 

I can very well understand the feelings of my friend. Being a chef he loves his profession of cooking and cooking tasty food. A word of appreciation is everything for a chef. If he cooks food without all those items mentioned above he will lose his job for sure. Let me clarify him that Dr. Raju is not making any taboo of salt or any other item mentioned above. Since he is a doctor in Naturopathy and health loving person he designed a special cuisine that doesn’t create any harm to health. He is doing his duty as you are doing yours.

To educate why the recipes in Dr. Mantena’s Kitchen are free from salt, sugar, oil, ghee, masalas, red chili powder and tamarind etc, I have decided to publish the reasons for their abolition through my blog in the days to come. In the process, I am coming up with some vital information on salt. First of all let us try to know some history of salt before going into further details.

Brief History of Salt:

4 years ago in 2009, a TV program by Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju blew my mind completely. It was the first time ever, I heard someone teaching to abandon salt in food completely. I could not resist my laughter for a long time when he cooked certain recipes without salt, sugar, oil, ghee, red chili powder and other masalas and spices. In my entire span of life I never heard, read or saw anyone cooking food without oil and salt in particular. It was totally out of my imagination. Even the doctors ask to reduce the salt intake for hypertensive patients but never heard of suggesting complete abolition of salt.

Dr. Raju sounded new and unique. Instead of striking his claims off completely, my intelligence demanded to learn and study more on the facts revealed by him. I googled and found some very interesting facts on salt, its uses and harms. I later realized how ignorant I was for over 30 years. I was totally unaware of the food I was eating. I never realized the tiny white powder of table salt we add in food has such a great history that led to war between nations which killed few millions. The external war is over by killing few millions, but the internal war is still on. It is still taking few million lives every year all over the world in the form of heart attacks, paralysis, renal failures and other diseases.

Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of food seasonings and widely used method of food preservation. Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates back to 6,000 years ago, when people living in Romania were boiling spring water to extract the salts. Salt works in China has been found which dates to approximately the same period. Salt was prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along especially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war and use it to raise tax revenues. Venice fought and won a war over Genoa for salt and played an important part in American Revolution. Cities on overland trade route grew rich by levying duties and towns like Liverpool flourished on the export of salt. The voyages of Christopher Columbus are said to have been financed from salt production in Southern Spain and the oppressive salt tax in France was one of the causes of French Revolution. And who can forget the famous salt Satyagraha in 1930 by Mr. M.K. Gandhi? He led at least 1, 00,000 people on the Dandi March in which protestors made their own salt from Sea thus defying British rule.

After learning the history of salt what fascinated me was not the use of salt in these 6000 years but the millions of years that people lived without salt. The human diet, for millions of years, did not contain any added salt. The consumed only the sodium present in the natural food. This equates to less than 1000 mg of sodium per day.

How much Salt we need a day?

Another friend wrote me saying that he appreciates the work of Dr. Raju but he disagrees with the complete abandoning of salt. His argument was that our body needs salt for various purposes of metabolism. He went on to show examples of Ayurveda recommending the usage of salt and so on. He even criticized me for promoting such false teachings of Dr. Raju through my blog without any evidence.

Off course, without any doubt; salt is essential for life but too much of it can cause medical problems. If it is consumed more; it can cause serious imbalance in your body, raising risk for several potentially serious medical problems. But the question arises what is too much? How much of salt we need to consume a day? Let us see what the study says:

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of America recommends healthy adults to consume no more than 2400 mg of sodium daily which is equivalent to 2.4 grams of table salt or about 1 teaspoon a day. 

According to Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju, on an average, a man needs 200mg - 300mg of sodium for keeping good health. Table salt that we use is a mineral substance composed primarily of Sodium Chloride. The natural salt that is available in vegetables, fruits, milk etc is Sodium. Outflow of sodium from the body depends on the atmospheric condition outside. The natural sodium can be sent out of the body without any harm.

Today, according to a study in the US, Americans typically consume 3500mg of sodium per day. 77% of their sodium in their diet comes from processed and restaurant foods. 90% of the Americans have a lifetime probability of having high blood pressure and subsequently a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another study in India revealed that an average consumption of salt by an Indian is 4000mg to 25000mg which is equivalent to 4 gm– 25 gm per day. You can now easily understand why the probability of heart attacks in India is more! The situation is worst in southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India, where people consume high volumes of salt in stored pickles and papads etc. 

We do get the natural sodium of 300 mg – 1000mg through our food which is more than required. Any amount of sodium you add in your food for taste is a burden to your body which takes its toll in a long run.

Salt - the King of Taste:

There is no wonder if I say, salt has become a synonym for taste today. The World knows that India is a country of vast cuisines. The cuisine in India changes every mile you travel. Indian cuisine is full of masalas and vast variety of spices. It is really hard to imagine Indian food without masalas or spices. Hundreds of varieties are cooked in different parts of the country using different masalas. The cuisine differs according to the geography, culture, tradition and even religions in India. The Indian cuisine is widely accepted and is very popular across the world for its spices. In spite of all those masalas and spices if there is no salt added to it, no one would like to eat it. Am I right? No wonder, because Salt is the King of Taste. Food without salt is considered like a Kingdom without a King.

Salt – the Emperor of Diseases:

Undoubtedly salt is the king of taste but remember! It is also the emperor of diseases. Doctors around the world are raising alarm over the use of salt due to the risk factors associated with it. Salt is a major factor for high blood pressure, paralysis, heart attack, arthritis, obesity, renal problems, asthma, allergy, sinus, swelling, diabetes etc.

Cuisine without salt obviously looks like a kingdom without king but what is the use of a king who harms his own people? Who first enslaves them, torture them and slowly kills them? What is the use of such a king? We have seen many revolutions in the human history where such kings were overthrown by the people by revolt. Can’t we overthrow this dangerous king of taste – the salt?
Obviously it is a difficult task but not impossible. I understand myself how difficult it is to overthrow it because I have been trying it for quite some time but unable to completely avoid it. Even Dr. Raju understands how difficult it is. He has created a specific environment around him that helped him conquer the salt completely. It is not really due to mere creation of the environment that helped him overcome salt. In fact, it is the uninterrupted sadhana (practice) of Dr. Raju that made him gain control over salt. First of all you need to understand the harm salt is creating to your body. If you understand the problem it is easy to solve the problem no matter how difficult it is. Some people understand after they become a victim while some other awaken before it takes a toll on them. It is up to you to choose what you want.

Understanding the Problem with Salt:

I told earlier, the word ‘taste’ has become a synonym to salt. It has become an established fact that you need to add salt for every cooked item for taste. Getting used to a particular taste is indeed a habit since the more you eat something, the more you get used to it. Your body and your cells long for the taste and you reach a stage where you cannot relish food if that taste is missing or if it is slightly changed. It is slavery to salt. It means the cells in your mouth; body and even the mind have been addicted to this bad habit of eating salt.

The constant use of medicines makes your body immune to them and so they don’t work properly. In the same way, if you are used to strong coffee, you can’t relish an ordinary coffee elsewhere. This applies to salt too.

You have taste buds in the front part of your tongue. New taste buds are formed every 10 days. So if you eat less salt, the first ten days it may be difficult to appreciate it, but the new taste buds that are formed after ten days get used to the new taste. Hence if you don’t eat salt for a few days, the cells will get used to it in no time; though it looks less tasty during initial days. If you resort to natural food like fruits and food that is cooked without salt the new taste buds would easily accept and relish the food you are eating without any difficulty.

However, it is always difficult to give up a bad habit and easy to give up a good one. For example you eat fruits as long as they are available; as many as possible, but once the season is over, you don’t miss them. You don’t long for them. The same theory applies to natural food.

Your taste buds and cells in the mouth and body are used to a particular quantity of salt. If usual quantity is missing, they force the mind to go for it. A man who eats stomach full everyday feels very hungry if he doesn’t get his usual quota. Where does the trouble arise – in the stomach or in the mind? If you feel it is stomach then how do you account for this? You don’t eat your breakfast stomach full, your stomach doesn’t grumble? So it goes without saying the mind and not the stomach that is feeling restless. The mind decides how much is required to fill the stomach. The same way, mind and the tongue are conditioned to the taste of salt. These two long for it, if it is missing. So the trouble is with the mind. Is the taste required for the mind or the body? Obviously, it is the mind.

You don’t mind having a little less quantity of salt in your food but not more. Your body is used to a certain amount of salt. You can though manage to eat less quantity of salt than regular intake but you immediately spit if it is more than regular quantity. Why your mind is forced to spit it out?

You put a pinch of salt in the mouth of a month old baby whose food is only milk. Immediately his smiling face turns irritable and he spits it out. Who taught him to spit it? We too repeat the same action. In fact, we do like to eat salt. In that case why do we spit if the volume increases than regular?

The human body has a very amazing facility. It has the nature of adaptability. It adapts good and bad things for survival. If good things are adapted it protects your body and if bad things are adapted it harms you. Salt is considered to be a silent killer – a slow poison which kills you gradually over a period of time. By the time you realize that salt has taken its toll on your body it is too late to respond. The damage has already been done. Please think and respond before it is too late!

I hope you liked this update on salt. In the next update I will come up with detailed information on the risk factors associated with salt and some tips for avoiding salt from food. Keep watching the space for updates.

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