Kudos to you if you have begun buying and storing bulk food. Twenty-five and fifty pound bags of beans, rice, wheat, sugar, oats and so on will really help you stretch your prepping budget. Now, we need to think about how to make all that food palatable. The most basic place to start is with salt.
The History of Salt
Sodium chloride has been important in the history of just about every culture since Adam and Eve. The Bible mentions it at least 30 times. Jesus even instructed his followers to be “salt and light” in this world. Roman soldiers were paid a salt ration which is how we came to have the word “salary.” In some places, salt has served as money and been the cause of many wars.
The French Revolution took place, in part, because of a tax (gabelle) on salt. The tax became oppressive as the years passed. The French kings had developed a monopoly on its production by only selling rights to produce it to a favored few. The ensuing scarcity of salt enraged the French people.
Economically, salt was of crucial importance. Explorers regularly carried it as a trading commodity. Trade routes were established in the ancient world largely to transport salt. In Greece, a long-distance bartering system developed to purchase slaves with loads of salt. This is how we get our expression “not worth his salt.”
Salt has played a role in military outcomes also. It was recorded that thousands of Napoleon’s troops died in his retreat from Moscow because their wounds would not heal. They had lacked sufficient salt for good health and convalescence.
The Biology of Salt
Human blood is 0.9% salt. That is the same concentration used in saline solutions to clean wounds. Sodium chloride maintains the electrolyte balance within and around our cells.
Sodium is an essential nutrient necessary for good health. Our bodies cannot manufacture it themselves. We must consume it daily because it is quickly eliminated by the kidneys.
It enhances the taste of our food, but more importantly, its flavor triggers the production of saliva and gastric juices required for food digestion. It is also present in pancreatic secretions and bile.
The body’s nerves and muscles need salt for proper functioning. Sodium and potassium together regulate cellular pressure. Chloride allows the potassium to be absorbed by the body and regulates the pH balance. It supplies one of the key elements in digestive juices and it plays a role in helping blood carrying carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled.
How Much Salt?
Convenience and prepackaged foods are often criticized for their salt content. Many people believe that too much salt contributes to high blood pressure and other health problems. Recent studies seem to debunk that, but the average diet of fast food and pre-seasoned meals almost surely provides more salt than we need.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends at least 500mg per day. Others recommend closer to 1500 mg. This would be about 3/4 teaspoon a day. Some foods naturally contain sodium, so keep that in mind when figuring how much you need to supplement. Animal products (like meat and milk) contain more than fruits and veggies.
As long as things continue merrily along the way they are, getting sufficient salt for good health will probably not be a concern. If though, the modern grocery stores and restaurants ever cease to be part of our everyday life, that would change. Salt would be an important commodity. For this reason and others (like food preservation), we recommend that you begin storing salt. The cheapest way to do that is by purchasing the 4 lb boxes often sold in big box stores. They are very inexpensive now and may once again be a heavily traded item in the future.
In a future piece, I will explain the difference and uses of different types of salt.