Posts tagged salt

Salt: nature’s antidepressant?

Several people at last month’s Winter Gardening Fair mentioned they are trying to eat right by adding veggies to their diet and substituting herbs and other spices for salt. This study came today from University of Iowa researchers who try to answer why cutting back on salt might be difficult for some:

Most people consume far too much salt, and a University of Iowa researcher has discovered one potential reason we crave it: it might put us in a better mood.

UI psychologist Kim Johnson and colleagues found in their research that when rats are deficient in sodium chloride, common table salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.

“Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn’t elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression,” Johnson said.

The UI researchers can’t say it is full-blown depression because several criteria factor into such a diagnosis, but a loss of pleasure in normally pleasing activities is one of the most important features of psychological depression. And, the idea that salt is a natural mood-elevating substance could help explain why we’re so tempted to over-ingest it, even though it’s known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.

Past research has shown that the worldwide average for salt intake per individual is about 10 grams per day, which is greater than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended intake by about 4 grams, and may exceed what the body actually needs by more than 8 grams.

Johnson, who holds appointments in psychology and integrative physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and in pharmacology in the Carver College of Medicine, published a review of these findings in the July issue of the journal “Physiology & Behavior” with Michael J. Morris and Elisa S. Na, UI graduate students. In addition to reporting their own findings, the authors reviewed others’ research on the reasons behind salt appetite.

High levels of salt are contained in everything from pancakes to pasta these days, but once upon a time, it was hard to come by. Salt consumption and its price skyrocketed around 2000 B.C. when it was discovered as a food preservative. Roman soldiers were paid in salt; the word salary is derived from the Latin for salt. Even when mechanical refrigeration lessened the need for salt in the 19th century, consumption continued in excess because people liked the taste and it had become fairly inexpensive. Today, 77 percent of our salt intake comes from processed and restaurant foods, like frozen dinners and fast food.

Evolution might have played an important part in the human hankering for salt. Humans evolved from creatures that lived in salty ocean water. Once on land, the body continued to need sodium and chloride because minerals play key roles in allowing fluids to pass in and out of cells, and in helping nerve cells transfer information throughout the brain and body. But as man evolved in the hot climate of Africa, perspiration robbed the body of sodium. Salt was scarce because our early ancestors ate a veggie-rich diet and lived far from the ocean.

“Most of our biological systems require sodium to function properly, but as a species that didn’t have ready access to it, our kidneys evolved to become salt misers,” Johnson said.

Behavior also came to play a key role in making sure we have enough salt on board. Animals like us come equipped with a taste system designed to detect salt and a brain that remembers the location of salt sources — like salt licks in a pasture. A pleasure mechanism in the brain is activated when salt is consumed.

So the body needs salt and knows how to find it and how to conserve it. But today scientists are finding evidence that it’s an abused, addictive substance — almost like a drug.

One sign of addiction is using a substance even when it’s known to be harmful. Many people are told to reduce sodium due to health concerns, but they have trouble doing so because they like the taste and find low-sodium foods bland.

Another strong aspect of addiction is the development of intense cravings when drugs are withheld. Experiments by Johnson and colleagues indicate similar changes in brain activity whether rats are exposed to drugs or salt deficiency.

“This suggests that salt need and cravings may be linked to the same brain pathways as those related to drug addiction and abuse,” Johnson said.

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Herbs for a younger you

A friend passed along the following from Dr. Eric Braverman on the Huffington Post:

 

New Year, Younger You: 20 anti-aging herbs and spices you must add to your diet now

Among other things, the holidays are a time of national dysnutrition: the disease of excess. Dysnutrition happens even in the most developed countries when food is plentiful but the overall diet is based on eating all the wrong balance of foods. Sound familiar? The typical American diet that is high in simple carbohydrates–white flour, white salt, and processed food–is aging us. We are getting all the bulk without the nutrients, plus adding to our propensity for developing real food cravings. So whether you are a vegetarian or an omnivore, you can start to reverse aging by simply choosing to eat the right foods to keep you full of vim, vigor, and vitality, especially over the holidays.

The easiest way to make sure you are getting more nutrients into every meal, even when you are grazing at the office cocktail party or the neighborhood potluck dinner is by choosing foods that are loaded with spices. Every time you flavor your meals with herbs or spices you are literally “upgrading” your food without adding a single calorie. You are taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary by adding color, flavor, vitamins, and often medicinal properties. Here’s why:

* Spices and herbs maximize nutrient density. Herbs and spices contain antioxidants, minerals and multivitamins. At the cocktail party, choose the Thai chicken satay stick over the tried and true fried chicken strip.
* Spices and herbs create a more thermogenic diet.
Because spices are nutrient dense, they are thermogenic, which means they naturally increase your metabolism. As your metabolism revs higher you will burn more of the food you have already eaten as fuel, and store less as body fat. At the dinner party, finish off the meal with coffee or tea sprinkled with cinnamon, which contains dozens of nutrients.
* Some spices and herbs increase your overall feeling of fullness and satiety, so you’ll eat less.
One study conducted at Maanstricht University in the Netherlands showed that when one consumes an appetizer with half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes before each meal, it decreased their calorie intake by 10-16%. If you’re planning a holiday menu, think of starting with a tomato soup sprinkled with red pepper.
* You can eliminate salt.
When you flavor your foods with spices instead of salt you’ll immediately see health and physical benefits. Excessive salt intake keeps water inside your body. Once you kick the habit you will no long have excessive bloating and water retention. You’ll also lose the salt and salty snack craving. That’s because using salt begets using more salt: after a while it’s impossible to use just a pinch, because you’ve trained your brain to require a salty taste for everything you eat. Over time, using spices will also lessen your cravings for simple, nutrient poor carbohydrate snacks because you will not be yearning for a savory, salty taste. Stay clear of the chips and dips and you’re doing your brain and your body big favor.
* Spices and herbs have real medicinal properties. Study after study shows the benefits of distinct herbs and spices. One study at Malmà University Hospital in Sweden showed that up to two hours after eating, people who ate cinnamon-spiced rice pudding measured significantly lower blood-glucose levels than those who had eaten the unspiced version. Other studies suggest that cinnamon may improve blood-glucose levels by increasing a person’s insulin sensitivity. One 2003 trial of 60 people with type 2 diabetes reported that consuming as little as two teaspoons of cinnamon daily for six weeks reduced blood-glucose levels significantly. It also improved blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, perhaps because insulin plays a key role in regulating fats in the body. So if you start adding spices to your diet now, you might be able to see real health benefits in the early months of the New Year.

Every little bit counts, so spice it up! Change your eating habits now, especially if your next meal is a pile of franks ‘n blanks or cheeseburger sliders. Choose flavor over blandness every time, and try to incorporate these specific herbs and spices into your diet if you have the following health concerns:

* rosemary and basil for their anti-inflammatory power
* cumin and sage for their dementia-fighting power
* cayenne and cinnamon for their obesity-fighting power
* coriander and cinnamon for their sugar regulating powers
* lemon grass, nutmeg, bay leaves and saffron for their calming effects on your mood
* turmeric for its cancer fighting power
* oregano for its fungus-beating power
* garlic, mustard seed and chicory for their heart-pumping power
* basil and thyme for their skin-saving power
* turmeric, basil, cinnamon, thyme, saffron, and ginger for their immune-boosting power
* coriander, rosemary, cayenne, allspice and black pepper for their depression-busting power

 

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Salt, de-icers and trees

The following is from the International Society of Arboriculture. The group’s Public and Industry Relations Manager, Sonia Garth, encouraged readers to also check out their Web site at www.treesaregood.org for more information.

 

     When winter snow and ice begin to fall, so does the salt, on driveways, sidewalks, and streets to aid in melting away potential hazards. Keeping our surroundings safe during the winter months is important, but salt can be a serious threat to our trees, when used without caution.

     “Excessive exposure to salt can cause widespread damage to your trees, leading to permanent decline and sometimes death,” said Jim Skiera, Executive Director of the ISA. “The problem with salt damage is that it might not show up on your trees until summer, when deicing salt is the last culprit you would suspect.” 

     To minimize the damage done to trees by deicing salts, Certified Arborists at ISA offer the following tips:

1. Use less salt. Mix deicing salt with abrasives such as sand, cinders, and ash, or use alternatives such as calcium magnesium acetate and calcium chloride.

2. Protect your trees from salt trucks on the street. If possible, set up barriers between the street and your trees to keep salt spray from hitting tree trunks.

3. Plant salt-resistant trees. Trees such as the sycamore maple, white spruce, willow, and birch tend to be more salt-resistant than other species. How well they fare varies from climate to climate across the country.

4. Improve soil drainage. Add organic matter to your soil to help filter salt deposits.

You can also keep your trees healthy by taking care of their basic needs. Other tips that will help combat the damage done by deicing salt include:

·        Irrigate to flush the salts from the soils in spring

·        Mulch sufficiently to reduce water loss.

·        Control pest infestations and destructive tree diseases.

     If you feel your trees may be susceptible to salt damage, contact a local ISA Certified Arborist in your area.

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), headquartered in Champaign, Ill., is a nonprofit organization supporting tree care research and education around the world. As part of ISA’s dedication to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees, it offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the industry. For more information on ISA and Certified Arborists, visit www.isa-arbor.com.

 

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Melting the ice

This is information compiled by Linn County Master Gardener Darrell Hennessey about a question frequently asked the Horticulture Hotline, regarding environmentally friendly alternatives to using salt for melting ice:
 Most deicing compounds are salts that melt the ice on our roads and sidewalks by reducing the melting point of water below 32’F.  Unfortunately they can damage metal, concrete and plants.  There are other alternatives to consider along with their relative merits and limitations:
 Sodium chloride (NaCl)—this is the more common table or rock salt.  It is one of the more readily available compounds and is least expensive.  However, we’re all familiar with the corrosive effects salt can have as well as damage to plants and soil.
 Calcium chloride (CaCl2)—this compound does not leave the white residue on floors and carpets that NaCl does, but it’s also highly corrosive to concrete and metals.  It’s only slightly less damaging to plants than common salt.  It is effective to about -20’F.
 Magnesium chloride (MgCl2)—effective down to about +5’F, and it doesn’t leave the powdery residue.
 All of these salts can damage landscape plants when used to excess.  High levels of salts can accumulate in the soil with the result that water uptake by plants is inhibited and either we count on heavy spring rains or manual flushing from the root zone to limit the effects.  High levels of salt restrict the uptake of essential nutrients by plant roots.  Salt deposited directly on plant foliage can result in dehydration of the plant tissue.
 Some alternative to consider:
             * Avoid using salt entirely (use coarse sand).
             * Reduce the effects by pre-wetting with a salt brine.  An abrasive such as 50 lbs. of sand, cinders or ash mixed with 1 lb. of salt can be an acceptable compromise.
            * Place a barrier between driveways and walkways and susceptible plants.
            * When all else fails, use plants sufficiently tolerant of exposure to salt.  The Extension office has a list of plants with varying susceptibilities.
 
Master Gardeners are available to answer horticulture questions in an unbiased, research-based manner as a free service to the community at (319) 447-0647.
 

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