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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

6: Salt of the Earth

When I was in my early twenties, I ran with a bunch of ski-bums who in the summer turned their interests to hang-gliding. I remember a particularly hot day that some of the guys were going to hike up the back side of a 2,000-foot cliff with their kites to take a spectacular flight over the outskirts of Kamloops, BC. Before the guys headed up, I saw them popping some pills, and I asked what they were. “Salt tablets,” came the answer. They went on to explain that especially in this heat, and exerting themselves as they would on this arduous hike with a heavy load, they would lose a lot of water and sodium through perspiration and they needed to replace it.

The memory of this incident has returned to me time and again. We understand, especially athletes do, the need to re-hydrate under such conditions. But we rarely think of our need for salt, especially in this era when salt has become a dirty word in most health circles. Yet I have often thought, if overweight people are told to cut back on salt because it’s causing them to retain water, what of the converse? What happens when you don’t have enough salt? Does this mean you can’t retain enough water? Personal experience and research has borne this out.

Sometimes during a sizzling hot spell, I find myself feeling faint and weak, especially when I exert myself outside. And thinking I must need more water, I guzzle it down. Yet at times like this it feels strangely unsatisfying. My body doesn’t seem to feel any benefit and the water runs right through me. Then I remember that day back in my twenties, and I add some salt to a tall glass of orange juice, and, man oh man, that does the trick. I feel like my whole body is saying, “Yes!” and my energy comes flooding back.

“In extracellular fluid, sodium is the major electrolyte. ... Hyponatremia results when blood levels of sodium become too low usually caused by excessive sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting. Symptoms are dizziness, confusion, weakness, low blood pressure, and shock.”

Last summer my then-92-year-old mother-in-law was hospitalized for several weeks. She was very, very low and reached a point where she hardly had the energy to open her eyes. The whole family came in and said their goodbyes. Then the medical staff checked her electrolytes and immediately thereafter started running saline into her veins. Her turnaround was so dramatic, it was virtually life back from the dead. A year later she is more chipper and “with it” than ever. Certainly other factors have contributed, but it was the saline that pulled her back from the brink.

I wonder how much of heat stroke is simply low sodium and the resulting electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Next time you’re feeling weak and woozy in the summertime, try 8 oz. of fruit juice with a half teaspoon of salt stirred in. But not just any salt. It needs to be a good quality Celtic sea salt. Regular table salt is definitely not good for us (although in a crisis, it will do the job). Refined at high temperatures and stripped of 82 of its 84 naturally occurring minerals (which are then sold into other profitable industries), the remaining sodium and chloride are no longer presented as nature intended. Yet salt was certainly originally designed to be good for us. Otherwise, how would it be that the wisest Man who ever walked called His followers “the salt of the earth”? In this day, given the bad press on salt, such a title would be perceived as an insult!

During the years that our kids were involved in high school sports, I used to cringe as I watched the teams guzzle sports drinks by the case. These products are glorified Kool-Aid: in most cases simply water, sugar, artificial colours and flavours—plus table salt. How I’ve wanted to suggest that they instead buy bottled orange juice and add some sea salt. So healthy, so tasty, and, I have a hunch, just the right complement of the major minerals we need, plus a host of trace elements that we don’t get anywhere else.

A number of sources state that sea water is almost identical in composition to the amniotic fluid in which we are sustained before we’re born: a mineral bath of the very essence of life. Surely the nutrients that nurtured us then will nourish us now. I’m all for following a doctor’s orders. But the next time your physician tells you to cut back on sodium as an arbitrary directive, take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

5: Chicken About Chicken

I’ve become downright scared to order chicken of any description in a restaurant. This story goes back a couple of years to an afternoon when my husband and I drove over to his sister’s for a visit. As I helped her prepare the evening meal, I saw that we were having a lovely pre-cooked, breaded turkey breast, along with their usual hospitable and generous spread. Now, I’ve become very careful about checking lists of ingredients, mostly for MSG and its many aliases (we’ll talk about that another time or two or three). But I also try not to be rude when I’m eating in other people’s homes. So surreptitiously, when my sister in-law wasn’t looking, I scanned the fine print on the packaging. Hmmm. Nothing bearing any resemblance to MSG. There was one long chemical ingredient, but I figured, when isn’t there? So I dug in without reserve, hoping for the best.

It was about an hour after the meal, when we were halfway home, that I began to feel symptoms very much like those I get from MSG: a plummeting of energy levels and a dreadful feeling of malaise that is difficult to describe. I dialled my hostess and asked if she would mind digging the turkey wrapping out of the garbage, the time for being polite now being past. She spelled out that long chemical name for me and as soon as I got home, low energy notwithstanding, I googled it: sodium tripolyphosphate.

Here is what I found out: This chemical is dissolved in water and then used as a brine in which to soak raw meats, in particular chicken and turkey breasts and seafood. It’s used, officially, to preserve, to “retain’” moisture, and to give a firmer, glossier, [fresher-appearing] product. Some suppliers will tell you it’s to tenderize and flavour the meat, but you and I both know that poultry breast is a tender meat already, unless it’s from a tired old laying hen that finally succumbed to age. No, the real bottom line of STPP is that it causes meat to take on water, up to 47% of its own weight. As it so often does, it comes down to profit.

Of course, it’s not just in restaurant chicken. When you buy chicken breasts from a store, check to see if the word “phosphate” is listed anywhere. Or, does it say “seasoned”? This is a deceitful euphemism for the same thing.

This chemical was originally (and still is) used in many laundry detergents and dishwasher soaps. If you’re washing your walls to prepare for painting, especially in a greasy area like the kitchen, the paint store will recommend that you use a solution of TSP, trisodium phosphate (a close relative of STPP), to really clean things up. Seriously, do you want to be ingesting stuff like this? I sure don’t.

I’d wondered for years what had changed about chicken in restaurants, when I “enjoyed” a nice chicken Caesar or a chicken burger; what had happened to that familiar, tender, fibrous texture; what gave it that soft, uniform texture and extra salty-like flavour. Now I know, and I avoid it like the plague. But one is hard pressed to find restaurant chicken without it. I inquired of the chef at a very nice place in Wetaskiwin. He said, “Well, our chicken is ‘pumped’ with water, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have that chemical in it.” I had to disagree, once I’d chewed it, tasted it, and then, an hour later, reacted to it. The cook at another good restaurant in town told me that it is virtually impossible to buy chicken breast anymore without this pre-treatment, and if he does find it, it’s cost-prohibitive.

What’s really scary is that kids are consuming this chemical indiscriminately in the form of chicken fingers and nuggets. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health, it is a suspected neurotoxin. “Based on [the] warnings from federal agencies, it is likely that consumers may be adversely affected when preparing and cooking STPP-soaked [food]” ( And yet the FDA in the US classifies it as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).

Sometimes the consumer feels helpless. But let me remind you: we are not. Start asking questions when you order your food. Take a copy of this article along and leave it with the chef. And if they can’t assure you that the whole chicken was cooked right there, in house, on the carcass (as this seems to preclude the “pumping” thing), just don’t order it. If we stop buying it, they’ll stop selling it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4: Starved for Minerals

One spring a few years ago, when we still kept horses on our acreage, a pretty little filly was born to one of our mares. We named her Abby. When she was about two years old, I went out to see her one day, and when she came to the fence, I saw that she was trembling all over and sweating and panting.

Very concerned, I came back into the house, phoned my vet friend, and described the symptoms. Her immediate question was, “Do you have a mineral block out there?”
I hesitated. “I don’t think so.”

“It sounds like she has a mineral deficiency,” she stated calmly.

So we went off to the local co-op and spent $20 or so on a mineral block, and within two or three days, Abby was as right as rain.

It seems that this is a big part of what veterinarians do: when something goes wrong with an animal (excepting trauma), they search for what nutrients might be lacking. I was discussing this with a friend recently, and this is what he had to contribute to the subject: “When we kept horses, our vet told us that if we hoped to raise any foals, we would have to give our horses selenium because the local soil is particularly lacking in it and horses can’t conceive without it.”

On the other hand, if you or I go to our GP with a complaint, he or she will likely prescribe a pharmaceutical product to suppress the symptoms. Or if the Rx cures the illness, the net effect on the body may be damaging. Prescription medication generally does not go to the root of the problem: our nutritional deficiencies are not addressed.

My last article left off talking about what many experts believe is wide-spread iodine deficiency. The reasons for this are several: In addition to the medical establishment by and large turning a blind eye to our nutritional needs, our soils have increasingly become stripped of not just iodine but many essential minerals. For decades farmers have fertilized, but usually only with three main elements: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, and this is because these three give the quickest, most visually impressive results. The nutritional quotient, however, has continued to dwindle while the spin-off from these chemical options escalates.

I find it interesting that when God gave Israel His personal directives on how His people ought to live, He included instructions on how the soil was to be treated. Every seven years the land was to lie fallow and rest, with what came up on its own being ploughed under to nourish the ground for future crops. Israel, for the most part, stubbornly refused to follow instructions. But God felt pretty strongly about the health of the soil. He warned them that if they wouldn’t respect the land in this way, they would eventually be conquered by an enemy nation and led away captive. And that’s exactly what happened. God intervened drastically to accomplish what He had hoped to do by directive: “As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:35, NLT).

In our day and culture, it’s far-fetched to think of letting the land have a rest, but fortunately some farmers are beginning to clue in to the plight of our soil and are supplementing with other macro-minerals as well as some trace elements. However, we are a long, long way from being able to get the nutrition we need from the food we eat.