The Obama Administration's assault on individual freedoms and liberties has opened a new front, this time aimed at personal nutrition and the amount of sodium - salt - we ingest as part of our daily diets.
Obama wants the feds to develop regulations governing the amount of salt that food manufacturers can use when they package food, whether it be frozen, canned, vacuum packed or whatever. If you package food and sell it to the public the government wants to say how much salt you can use as a preservative.
This is a response to, and an escalation of, concerns that too much salt in our diets can cause high blood pressure, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks. On one level this may not seem to be such a bad thing, as long as you don't mind the federal government looking over your shoulder at meal time - each meal, every day.
As those of you who have purchased my latest book Granny Snatching, How A 92-year Old Widow Fought The Courts and Her Family to Win Her Freedom are already aware, insufficient salt in our diets also can have adverse impacts on our health. (You can get a signed copy on this website or at www.GrannySnatching.com if you'd like to learn more.)
I was confronted with this issue when my then 91-year-old mother moved in with us in December 2008. She was in good health for the most part, but suffered some nutritional deficiencies due to imbalances in her daily diet, which were corrected by proper nutrition. These included low potassium - hypokalemia - which can cause a plethora of physical and mental problems, and hypothyroidism - an underactive thyroid gland. More on that in a minute.
Salt intake is an issue because in the last 60 years or so, our eating habits have changed drastically. Until the 1950s American families ate far more fresh food, and table salt was a mainstay at mealtime. In addition to providing us with our daily requirement of salt - in the form of sodium chloride - it also was a primary source of iodine, which is an essential nutrient that helps regulate metabolism.
Much of the salt we put into the salt shakers was 'iodized' meaning it had iodine added to it. Canned food, which used salt as a preservative, was common, but as refrigeration became more dependable and efficient - and as more families needed two adults in the workforce, thus limiting the amount of time available to prepare food for dinner - frozen foods, TV dinners, and other forms of packaging took over increasing shares of the market. The salt content went up, but not necessarily the iodine supplement.
In addition to seeing increases in diseases related to blood pressure, doctors also saw spikes in thyroid disorders, as families took the iodized salt off the table in an effort to reduce sodium in their diets.
Metabolism, the means by which our body turns food into energy, can be too fast or too slow depending on the operation of our thyroid glands, and our thyroids operate at optimum efficiency when we ingest trace amounts of iodine.
If the thyroid is not doing enough to regulate our metabolism we can develop hypo-thyroidism, and if it is doing too much we can develop hyper-thyroidism. These are two entirely different conditions and only hypothyroidism is directly impacted by iodine. Hyperthyroidism requires medication, a doctor's care and has far reaching symptoms that aren't the subject of this article.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include extreme sensitivity to the cold, dry skin that also is itchy, and a bloated or puffy appearance around the face and neck. Soon after my mother moved in with us I noticed that she complained a lot about the cold, and that she also was complaining of dry, itchy skin. So I looked up the symptoms on the Internet and found everything you could ever want to know about hypothyroidism.
Like many American families we took the salt shaker off the table years ago. I figured we got enough salt, probably far more than we needed, from processed foods, and since we take a multi-vitamin mineral table each day we still were getting enough iodine and other trace elements.
That was not the case with my mother. So we brought back iodized table salt and started her on a multi-vitamin mineral tablet too, one that is specifically for older adults. Within a matter of days her symptoms disappeared.
The government is right to have concerns about what is in the food sold to the American public. I have long believed that there are far too many ingredients that we can't pronounce, much less understand, in the packaged food we purchase. I go to great lengths to avoid prepared foods as much as possible, using the harvest from my garden to supplement our meals during the summer, and freezing as much as possible for the winter.
When I absolutely, positively have to buy packaged food I take an extreme measure that I recommend to everyone else in deciding which brands pose the least potential harm. I read the labels.
I would much rather see the Obama Administration initiate an across-the-board education program that encourages people to read the packaging, and understand the meanings of the ingredients. I would rather see the Obama Administration require all food manufacturers to spell out exactly what all that scientific mumbo-jumbo means, in understandable English, and what impact it could have on our health if we eat it.
Most nutrition experts say that two grams of salt a day is sufficient for the average diet. I use considerably less, about half that much actually and it doesn't seem to have had a negative impact on me. But I encourage people to see their doctors, get an annual checkup and ask the mundane questions, like "How much salt do you recommend for me, at my age, weight and body composition, Doctor?"
How hard is that? Do we have to have a government program for everything? Especially one that focuses on one aspect of our nutritional life while ignoring another that is equally important?
Education and a little individual effort will go a long way here, while avoiding another increase in the size of the federal bureaucracy and the taxes needed to support it.
Friday, April 23, 2010