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Salt

Unfortunately, salt added at the table accounts for only 15% of the salt most Americans consume. Most of the salt is hidden in processed food, which now accounts for about 80% of our salt intake. Why is it that salt, which is so beneficial as a preservative and has been added to food for thousands of years, should only in recent years be discovered to be so harmful? In 1998, MacGregor and de Wardener published a book entitled Salt, Diet and Health: Neptune's Poisoned Chalice: The Origins of High Blood Pressure (1). The book traces the fascinating story of how humans became addicted to salt, its past economic and historical importance, and the recent realization that salt is responsible for a great number of deaths throughout the world. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reverse the present state of affairs in all Western countries unless we avoid most processed foods. It would be much easier if the food industry could be persuaded to stop adding such unnecessarily large amounts of salt to foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, and prepared meals. For purely commercial reasons, the food industry opposes the now overwhelming evidence that relates salt intake to the development of high blood pressure. ...
For 5 million years, according to MacGregor and de Wardener, our ancestors added no salt to their diet. Nowadays, such a diet would be considered very low in salt. This was the diet of all mammals during evolution, and they were fairly adapted to it. Humans, like other mammals, relied on the small amounts of salt naturally present in food to regulate the amount of fluid in the body. Very powerful mechanisms for conserving salt within the body were developed.

The addition of salt to food began relatively recently, about 5000 years ago. As people became increasingly addicted to it, salt became the most important object of trade and the economic foundation of several empires. It was used by authoritarian governments to control their people and as the main source of tax revenue.

Our consumption of salt today is 10 to 20 times greater than it was 5000 years ago. Because the human body had become geared to conserve salt, it found it difficult to dispose of this relatively sudden, in evolutionary terms, increase in salt intake. The result was a general rise in blood pressure. Those who had the greatest difficulty getting rid of the excess salt had the greatest rise. A rise in blood pressure, of course, damages the arteries, and hypertension is the major cause of stroke and a major contributor to heart disease.
- William C. Roberts, SALT AND BLOOD PRESSURE, Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2001 Jul; 14(3): 314–322


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