It's not about the house.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Not So Salty, Dog!

I eat a lot of salt. I mean, a lot of salt. People are always appalled at how much I’m shaking on my food, but I find I just can’t taste it until my plate looks like a little snow-capped mountain range. I am that rude person who sits down to the gourmet meal you spent hours preparing and peppers it (so to speak) with salt before putting even one bite in my mouth. I know. I’m sorry. I try to remember not to do it, but it’s like trying not to use certain words in front of children: it’s just a habit, it just happens, and before I even close my mouth people are exchanging disappointed looks across the room.

Now, I don’t have high blood pressure. If I did, I might think twice about reaching for the shaker – just like, if I had kids, I might think twice about dropping the bigger bombs. Johnny does – have high blood pressure, that is – but I figure that’s his problem. He can worry about the levels of salt in his own soup just like parents can worry about the levels of it in their own language (and I’m going to drop that analogy right here before I get myself in any (more) trouble with the Mommy Brigade).

The way I’ve come to figure it is this: I eat so much salt, and I’ve always been at least somewhat overweight, yet my blood pressure has always been, if anything, a little low. Plus I’m almost forty. So maybe it’s just not going to happen, but if the day should ever come that I begin popping elevated numbers, there ought to be no need for medication. Just cut back on the white stuff and voila! C’est healthy me!

Of course, it’s not like I haven’t resolved once in a while over the years to cut back anyway – if for no other reason than because I felt I should – but I only ever got as far as the first bite of the first boiled egg I had for breakfast on the first day before I quit. Or the first skinless chicken breast. The first broccoli floret. Whatever. I gag down a single bite, say “To hell with this!,” and make a mad dash for the Morton’s. So maybe, if my blood pressure ever does decide to spike, I’ll just have to learn to love gin blossoms and panic attacks. Or else, you know, suck it up and take a stupid pill.

(Ooh, and while we’re on the subject? Fancy salt is nothing but snobby marketing hype aimed at gullible people looking for something new to feel superior about. There, I said it. I mean, for crying out loud! It’s bad enough you want me to believe I’ll go to hell because I can’t afford organic vegetables (which are also, by the way, a load of hoo), or that Johnny’s going to burn for all eternity because his chicken didn’t get to see the sun before they chopped its head off, ripped its entrails out and shoved them up its ass. I didn’t even so much mind when you told me my flour and my rice had to be brown, I actually like them that way. But now you’re fucking with my iconic, two-for-a-dollar, when it rains it pours, navy blue box? You want me to bring in a selection of minerals in every color of the rainbow, sun-dried by indigenous (but assuredly well-paid) artisans on distant coasts I've never heard of, and pay anywhere from seventeen to sixty-five dollars a pound? No. No, no. No. I’m crying foul. And if that means I’ll go to hell, well, all right then, I'll go to hell.)

(Oh, and also: soy sauce is salty because they add salt to it, it is no more natural or healthy than skipping the middle man and adding it yourself. And, although it has nothing whatsoever to do with what we’re talking about, I'd also like to get this off my chest: agave nectar is a simple sugar refined from botanical juices – just like, ahem, corn syrup. There, I’m done.)

No, really, I don’t have high blood pressure. Why do you ask?

Anyway, all of this is on my mind because over the past year I’ve seen the effects of what high blood pressure can do. I never realized this before, but it really isn’t just a question of how red your face gets when you’re mad. Chronic hypertension can shut your kidneys down. It can explode your heart. It can even – and not in a good way, either – swell your brain.


So now I’m all paranoid. Because, see, when I die (if it happens, which I’m still not entirely convinced it will), I want to go down shouting. I want to get shot in the face by Dick Cheney, run over by Laura Bush, or abandoned in a sinking car by Teddy Kennedy. I want to get my scarf caught in the axle, go down in a biplane with the Big Bopper, or collapse on stage and have everybody think it’s all a joke. I want to come a cropper in a mutinous attack, get eaten by cannibals, disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. I don’t want to just fizzle out in the middle of a sentence: “Honey, could you please pass the—pfft.”

And I know it may seem strange to worry about these things when I consistently measure a cool 110/75 or so. But what if my blood pressure is supposed to be 100/60 like it was in high school? What if, for me, 110/75 is actually high? What if I have been damaging myself with all that Morton’s all these years? (Not to mention: what if I’m really a size two? What if these hips aren’t really hips at all? What if I’ve just been retaining a pair of water balloons on my haunches for thirty years?)

So I think I’ll try again. In fact, I already did, with a bowl of Johnny’s soup this afternoon. He makes soup all the time and never puts so much as a pinch of salt in the whole pot, so I end up adding practically a teaspoon to every bowl. But I forwent the shaker this time like a good girl – only to discover he’d tossed in an envelope of these Chinese noodles that’ve been kicking around here for a while, which happen to be loaded with m.s.g. That soup was plenty salty, thank you, even without my little touch o' love. In fact, if I’d salted it without tasting like I usually do, it would have been inedible, even for me.

There, you see? I may not be succeeding quite yet, but I’m learning. And I may have accidentally stumbled upon a cure. Next time you have someone like me coming to your house for dinner, just put a load of m.s.g. in her food. She’ll shake-shake-shake away before she takes her first bite, and then she won’t ever, ever, ever salt before she tastes her food again.

But if I were you, I'd send the kids to bed before you try it.


Anonymous said...

the need to eat salt is an acquired taste. the more you use it over time, the more you will have to use to be satisfied. if you are able to reduce how much you use over time, you will eventually find that you don't need it any more.

and while it does not seem to be affecting your blood pressure right now, one day it probably will. or you may never receive a warning that way, and may be doing more damage than you think. a small amount of salt for flavor is okay, but overuse is a terrible idea for many reasons. as you mentioned, it could have an affect on your weight, and it does make your body retain water when it doesn't actually need it.

Karen in Boston said...

Who are you, and how did you read my mind so perfectly. I'm a fellow salt-aholic, and happily so, with normal/low blood pressure consistently. I've also even found the ONE food I don't need to salt (a dry bean soup mix). I salt everything. Chinese food, hotdogs, Ramen noodles, etc., but not this dry white bean soup mix. Salt on, sister!

pork luck said...

My mom is just like you. Salt, salt salt! But she SWEARS it has no effect on her health. So we tease her and say that on her tombstone we're going to heave them etch, "It wasnt the salt."

ege said...

Anon -- I know, I know, it's just so hard. And so yummy!

Karen -- Welcome! I'm glad to find a kindred salty spirit. You've got to tell me the name of that bean soup.

PorkPie -- Ha ha! I like that idea. I'd steal it myself, if I weren't planning on being eaten by cannibals. And one of them will gasp and choke and swear cannibal-swears because I'll be all full of salt!

Jenni said...

I just added a shake or two to my Chicken Pie.

This post is classic EGE. She's Baa ack.

DonnaStaf said...

Did you know that the NHLBI cut off is 120/80 to be monitored for prehypertension? Especially dangerous is the bottom number. Not to be adding to your angst you almost 40 gal---but, 75 is only 5 points away from 80... I'm just sayin'...

su said...

Ok I'm going to jump in here on the agave nectar. Unlike sugar or corn syrup, agave is processed more slowly by the digestive system and does not give the rapid blood sugar spikes that the other 2 do. Yea for agave nectar. It can be used in baking or as a natural sweetner in beverages for those who are sugar sensitive.

ege said...

Donna! -- Long time! But still I gotta say: horseshoes and handgrenades, baby!

Su -- I hereby proclaim people who have sensitivities to things are exempt from all my rantings. Especially people who have sensitivities to my rantings! (Also, sensitivities is a hard word to type!)

ege said...

Oh, my gosh, Jenni! I didn't see you there! (I'm very exclamation pointy today!) Yes, I am back, thanks for noticing. Not every day, probably, but enough so I don't lose the muscles. Nothing worse than a flabby snark muscle. All you can do with a flabby snark muscle is whinge. Bleah.

paddy said...

Salt is harmless to most of humanity, and will not cause high blood pressure. That's why we have thirst and kidneys! Check out the book "The Man who Ate Everything" for more info. And eat on!

Karen in Boston said...

This is the white bean soup. I always make it with cubed or diced ham, so that probably adds some saltiness too...

utterlyjaded said...

Either you have an intolerance for salt, or you don't. It's a genetic gamble. Sounds like you don't, so I wouldn't worry about it too much.

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