Are you getting enough salt?

Talk about scare tactics-the high-blood-pressure Gestapo is working to convince us that the slightest shake of salt on our food is going to send us to an early grave. They're recommending daily intake quantities that are likely to rob every ounce of flavor from the food we enjoy. Don't stand for it!

Salt, or, more accurately, sodium, is a vital mineral in the human diet. It is the main component of the body's extracellular fluids and carries nutrients to and from cells. Sodium also causes the body to retain water that is needed to perform numerous chemical processes, maintains blood pH, and helps regulate muscle, nerve, and stomach functions.

Several studies have proven the benefits of dietary salt. In the spring of 1995, a report on the results of a four-year study suggested a link between a low-salt diet and higher risk of heart attack. It was published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Inconclusive results, found by researchers at the University of Toronto (after studying the effect of sodium on blood pressure in 3,505 subjects) suggest that there is a need to reevaluate the entire concept of low-sodium diets. In light of emerging evidence that a low-sodium diet may actually be harmful to some individuals, the researchers said, the objective of universal dietary sodium restrictions should be reevaluated.

The former president of the American Heart Association, Dr. Suzanne Oparil, agrees. Her personal view is that the government may have been too quick to recommend that everyone cut back. "Salt restriction as a solitary recommendation for the population for the prevention or treatment of hypertension is not a powerful weapon and is probably not worth the trouble," she said.

According to Oparil, the link between high blood pressure and sodium intake first surfaced about 50 years ago--when studies indicated that hypertension was rare in countries with low-salt diets. But salt isn't the only factor in blood pressure levels. So long as you are getting enough calcium, potassium, and magnesium, there's no apparent reason to cut back on salt unless, of course, you just don't like it.

Today, some researchers believe that low-salt diets may actually be dangerous. One theory holds that people with high blood pressure are at greater risk for heart attacks if their kidneys produce excess levels of the enzyme renin. A low-salt diet causes renin levels to increase.

Expect the experts to be duking this out for years to come.

The only salt worthy of your consideration is sea salt from a clean seabed. Don't be fooled: If the label says "U.S. crude salt" it doesn't mean the contents are pure. Crude salt is unrefined industrial salt. It may be unrefined, but it has been mined from a source that is most likely heavily contaminated with heavy metals. Sea salt is the only option.

To be a sea salt worthy of your family, it must meet all three of the following criteria:

1) The salt will not be the snow-white variety you're used to. It should be light gray in color. After sitting for a time, the color at the bottom of the container will be darker. If the salt is crystal white, it may be sea salt but it has been treated and fractionated to rid it of impurities and, at the same time, this rids it of essential minerals. If it is not light gray, it is not a nutritious salt.

2) Legitimate sea salt is not dry to the touch. It should be a little soggy. The moistness is due to the presence of magnesium salts. When kept in cool storage, it doesn't dry out.

3) The crystals, under magnification, are small and cubic.

Finding pure sea salt can be rather difficult. There are plenty of products out there claiming to be "pure" but, unfortunately, they have almost all been tampered with to some degree. I have only been able to find one source that I trust--The Grain and Salt Society in Ashville, North Carolina. They can be reached at (800) 867-7258 or on the Internet at www.celtic-seasalt.com.