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Salt (Sodium Chloride)

Salt is the everyday name for sodium chloride, a naturally occurring compound in our food which in the right quantity is essential to good health.

The sodium element regulates the body's fluid balance which helps maintain normal pressure and keeps our nerves and muscles working properly. While chloride, aids digestion and enhances the flow of carbon dioxide to the lungs.

The three main sources of salt are from seawater (above right), the inland rock residues of prehistoric seas (see picture, above left) and natural salt springs. Many towns show their connection with the production of salt in their name - Saltcoats, Salzberg, Salt Lake City and Prestonpans being good examples plus any town called Salinas.

In Britain evidence that the Celts extracted salt from the sea, as early as 600 BC, has been found on several sites in Essex, Kent, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk. While the Romans developed the brine springs of Cheshire and Worcestershire.

Salt is the richest contributor of sodium in the average diet - but table or culinary salt has been indiscriminately condemned as a risky food, leaving many people confused about its use. It should be remembered, however, that in the right amounts, sodium is a much-needed mineral in the body; and the harmful effects of severe salt restriction are only now becoming apparent.

The World Health Organisation recommend an intake of 5 grams per day, but with the popularity of processed foods the average Britain consumes about 12 grams, leading to worries over some of the possible side effects of too high an intake. These include increased blood pressure and a strain on the kidneys.

Current thinking is that unless people are aged over 45 and suffer from high blood pressure, worrying about normal amounts of salt intake is unnecessary, but high users should remember that salt is a 'pickler' and they are the pickle. If a balanced diet is practiced, salt as a dietary addition is unnecessary.

In parts of the world where the food is mainly vegetarian, mineral salt is essential to remedy salt deficiency.

Of our natural foods, raw meat is the best provider (cooked meat less so); a diet based on cooked grain and vegetables contains few natural salts, even less if they are cooked in unsalted water, as some of their own thoughts are leached out. Salting the cooking water helps reduce this lose. See 'Salt and Diet'

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