Saturday, 27 April 2013

SALT and Other Food Issues

        When I was finally able to pin down my lack of energy to Adrenal Fatigue, I was surprised to find out that the book on the subject recommended salt for people who had low blood pressure. Of course, when you think about it makes sense that if salt brings up people's high blood pressure the opposite would also be true. However, the standard advice on food it's that everybody should stay as clear of salt as possible. And this is the fundamental problem with the advice we get on food: the idea that one rule fits all. The other big problem that I see is that there is no evidence whatsoever for a lot of the recommendations that are made. 
         Case in point: A few years ago I was having coffee with some acquaintances and I mentioned that the day before I had cooked a Nigel Slater recipe: cod fried in butter with lemon and mash. The two women I was talking to, who are roughly about 15 years older, looked at me with shock and horror and said -in a lamenting and snooty british accent (Think Violet in Downton Abbey): "Oh, but we haven't touched butter in years... " I looked at them and I didn't have the heart to reply with the thought that crossed my mind: "Well... it  looks like not having butter is not making any difference to your size..." 
        That was the beginning of my questioning any dietary advice given by "the food police" (like Nigel Slater calls them). What I couldn't get my head round was that: there they were, following all the "rules" of healthy eating and still being overweight and struggling to keep it down and there I was, paying not one bit of attention to any of those rules: eating what I liked and not exercising, and still being a dress size 6 (UK) (US size 2). It just didn't make any sense. Every single person I knew who was on a low-fat diet was overweight and every single thin person I knew didn't do low-fat . That couldn't be a coincidence. So, if what the medical profession was saying about low-fat food wasn't true, what else wasn't true? I started wondering about everything I knew about food and to investigate the matter further. In the end I came to the conclusion that most studies are flawed exactly for the reasons that Kitty explained in her comment on the previous post, that :
The complexity of controlling variables for nutrition studies must make it almost impossible to get good data."

So if studies are not a reliable source of information, what else do we have? Well, I my case, I have the history of my family. Let's start with my grandparents who lived to their mid 80s and my grandmothers, who died at 94 and 97 respectively. And here is the thing: in the village where my paternal parents are from, according to the dietary advice we get: they should all be dead. The amount of salt they put on their food is huge, well, put it this way: my aunt didn't just put a pinch of salt on the salad, she would chuck a whole fist full of salt. Their main meat was pork, which was preserved in olive oil in clay jars. Sometimes chicken and rabbit.  Occasionally lamb. Wild hare, partridge and quail while the hunting season lasted. No fish or seafood, or very rarely, since they are about 400 miles from the sea. They grew potatoes and vegetables. They ate white bread with everything. Deep fried everything. (My paternal grandmother didn't even own an oven). They didn't walk a lot: this village is so small, it takes just over 5 minutes to get to the furthest end. But there they were, unknowingly disobeying every rule of modern eating and defiantly living to their hundreds. As far as I know everyone from that generation living in the village died of old, not of disease or cancer or heart attacks. And except for one widow, everybody was thin. The next generation (my parents' generation) are not doing so great, but what's different? they all yo-yo diet.  They also all eat very fast. 
Now let's have a look at the other set of grandparents. Their diet was quite different. Where they lived was not right by the seaside but was close enough to have all sorts of fish and seafood available. They also lived in a area of green pastures so they had beef, milk and butter available. Lots of different types of cheese too. Stews with chorizo, pork belly, potatoes and collard greens. My maternal grandparents didn't stay in that village for the whole of their lives (unlike the other set, who did), they moved to a big city in their 40s. So for those who think that it was the quiet village life that made the difference... nope. This city is so noisy that people who are born in it have hearing damage by the time they get to their twenties, and the pace of life is so fast that when one of my cousins (on my father's side) visited for the first time (she must have been about 12) she asked me why people were running! They weren't running, they were walking, (similar to the NY pace) but to her, our walking was running. 
My parents diet is a combination of the two. My mother is a great believer of variety. They eat all types of fish and meats, plenty of vegetables, beans and pulses. Milk and yogurt. Lots of bread (my father will not eat a meal unless there's bread to go with it :P) Lots of fruit. Sounds healthy, doesn't it? Well,  let me tell you that they are both very overweight, even though they don't eat sweets or cakes or biscuits of any kind. On the other hand they are strong as oxen and are never ill (nor were my grandparents ever ill for that matter); well, my father gets a permanent cold every winter when he has the flu vaccine (he never had colds before) but that's a whole other story...

So quite frankly, my conclusion is that a lot of the issues that are blamed on food (such as hypertension, cholesterol, allergies, etc) have nothing to do with food. Weight gain is a lot more complex than the press makes it out to be. For most of history, lack of food was the main reason that people got ill and died before old age. My bet is that most of the medical conditions that are blamed on food are actually a result of emotional distress (subject for a whole other post really). 
Food does have a part to play in health, because what we eat becomes us, so to find good quality food it's important. The main thing is to have common sense. One rule does not fit all. People who live in cold countries need different food than people living in hot countries. I see people in the UK who diet during winter and  get continuous colds, and in the worse cases, chest infections and bronchitis. It makes sense to eat cooling foods -like cucumber- when the weather is hot, and soups and stews when it's cold outside. A lot of the time our bodies tell us what we need, if we listen carefully. If something doesn't taste good to you, it's probably not good for you. That goes for salt too. Your taste should tell you how much you need. Like Kitty, I don't like the taste of table salt, so I have sea salt.  (Jessie asked what salt extracted by traditional methods was. I found a video of traditional saltmaking in Hawaii, which is pretty much the same as the traditional methods in Europe.)

      While the press likes to go on about healthy foods and is continually praising the Mediterranean diet as the holy grail of health, the fact remains that most people have to make do with what's available where they live. Also, the Japanese and a number of other nations are just as healthy as people in Mediterranean countries, so I take the press' love affair with the Mediterranean diet with a pinch of salt (no pun intended). 
     In theory, if our diet is generally healthy we shouldn't need any extra supplements, but I have found that when I'm dealing with stressful situations, food doesn't seem to be enough. I'm not sure why this is. There is a line of thought in the UK that the soil is not as rich in minerals as it was decades ago. They say that to have the equivalent in the nutrition that a carrot had in the 1950s, you'd have to eat 7 carrots now. I have also read that some supermarkets irradiate fresh vegetables to give them a longer shelf life. I don't know if it's true, but I once had a bag of carrots in my fridge draw that was there for four months and still looked like I had bought it the day before whereas the carrots I buy from an organic supplier start shrinking within a couple of weeks if we don't eat them. So maybe there is something to it. Maybe if we're eating healthy, the food is enough to get us going in our daily routines (and to produce hair, skin and nails and all other regeneration and functions of the body that seem to be forgotten by the people who measure food just in terms of calories...) but not enough for when there is extra-stress. Maybe there aren't enough nutrients in modern food to be stored up as reserves. Obviously something has changed, because when you read what prisoners were surviving on in Nazi concentration camps while doing a whole day of physical work in the snow and still kept going, makes no sense at all that we have so much available food and yet, so many have no energy. 
(If anyone has any theories on why this is, I'd be very interested to hear them.) 


  1. This is such an interesting post Kara and really shows how most of the reigning theories don't really hold up. Genetics and epigenetics play a huge role, as does stress. Cortisol affects how your body processes fat, and regulates insulin too. It's hard to know what approach is best. I always go back to "eat food, mostly plant, not too much." Low carb is impossible to maintain; low fat is also terrible. Of course, I could probably live on peanut butter and carrot juice. I envy you the US size 2, that's for sure. Something happens to metabolism processing fat after 50. It starts migrating, on it's own, to places I never had it before! xx CS

    1. From all the stuff I've read, Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" seem to make a lot of sense. I like that he keeps a sense of humour about it too.
      About the metabolism processing fat differently after 50... my mother's neighbour was complaining to her doctor about this same problem. He explained that after 50 women put on 10 pounds (even if they're not eating any different) and that it's very hard to lose them because it's the body's way to protect the bones as they weaken with age (sort of like a protective cushion). Makes sense. xx

  2. Loved this! I'm with you: I don't buy the experts. Every single expert I've read never, ever discusses counseling first. They want the answer to be food, which is what traps a food abuser in the beginning.

    As to energy, I always heard that exercise increases your energy. I didn't believe it. I tried it and failed. I didn't understand I needed to increase little by little. Now that I have a simple routine I follow every day, I'm doing much better. I'm able to do more, and I'm not quite so tired, but again, I had to tackle the depression first.

    Life is complicated. My health has improved as I've slowly addressed my physical health, my mental healthy, and my spiritual healthy in tandem.

    1. Thank you for the feedback Judy, exercise and fitness are another issue that is not as straightforward as is made to sound. A couple of years ago DH and I hiked to the top of Mount Snowdon via the Watkin Path, which is the hardest route. We were with two male friends who are over 10 years younger and go to the gym and play sports regularly. Considering that I don't exercise at all, I was only 5 mins behind them and didn't find the hike any harder than they did. I also have another friend who runs regularly and she's always out of breath when we go up the stairs in a building, whereas I'm not.
      The BBC did a very good documentary on this subject last year called "The Truth about Exercise" which explained why a lot of people's bodies don't respond to exercise, particularly when it comes to weight loss.

    2. Hi Kara, re exercise, I'd been athletic growing up, played sports, did all kinds of things (skiing, tennis, running, swimming, basketball), and as an adult kept up with gym visits and weight lifting, lots of exercise all the time. It never got or kept weight off me. Then I grew bored with all that repetitive motion (even after 'mixing it up.' It was a mental boredom. That and joints weren't happy. I started finding daily swimming a huge hassle. I just lost the motivation to do it regularly, partly due to overwork, partly because I have dogs I have to exercise each day, and after that the last thing I want to do is go to the gym. I haven't gained any weight; but I've developed the dreaded belly fat (the unhealthy kind). Fat migrates after 50,no matter what you do. I never had any "love handles" at all until after 50, and even though my weight is down there seems to be no remedy for this that won't involve more aerobics than I want to do. It's just something I'm accepting about myself. I walk my dogs (and ball throw) with them for at least an hour most days, and that'll have to be enough (with some core work and pushups). I just got massively bored with "exercise" as a goal in itself. Incorporating it into other things, great (walking to work, etc).

    3. Hi CS,
      The mental boredom is the reason why I have never been able to exercise in a gym, or go running. Sometimes when I go to London I see people running in the parks, which is better than running on concrete I guess, but they just look so aimless... I'm not surprised your joints weren't happy, most of the people I know who exercise have knee injuries or other types. I love swimming but like you say, it is a huge hassle, particularly when you have very long hair. I also can't stand the amount of chlorine they put in pools, I'm sure it can't be good for us. I've heard that some swimming pools in Canada were starting to use salted water (which eliminates the need for strong chemicals) so if that trend ever comes to the UK I might reconsider taking swimming up more regularly. I have the same view as you that incorporating exercise into every day activities makes more sense. Maybe that's the reason why I haven't put weight on, because despite of not "exercising" I'm an active for most of the day.
      I'm not sure that even with more aerobics you'd get rid of the belly fat. One of my neighbours is an aerobics instructor and she couldn't get rid of it. In the end she opted for liposuction.

    4. Well, no lipo for me I'm afraid, for lots of reasons. I used to be an addicted swimmer. I mean addicted. Then I gradually developed an allergy to chlorine. I feel like in the 80s they started dumping a lot more toxic chemicals into public and university pools, probably due to HIV paranoia. Over time I'd go swimming and be congested for many hours afterward. I'd shower and the chlorine smell wouldn't go away. It wreaked havoc on my hair and skin. I'd put in ear plugs, wear nose plugs, goggles, the whole shebang (I swam competitively and was addicted to the endorphins it produced). But I couldn't take the chlorine allergies. Now if I know I'm taking a snorkeling trip (not lately due to house expenses), I"ll swim for a month in advance to get in swimming shape. Nothing else that you do gets you in shape for swimming, except swimming (because your breathing is so regulated). With running you can breath faster; not so with swimming. Just an interesting swimming nerd observation!

  3. I really, really enjoyed reading this post. You and I have similar views about diet, nutrition, and exercise Kara, which is probably one of the reasons I liked this so much. :-) Also my grandmothers also died at 94 and 97--go figure! There is so much I could say here, thoughts I could add, but for now I will just say that I agree with everything you've said. It's also given me an idea for a post, semi-related to this topic but not really. So thx for that!

    Fun, fun read.


    1. Thanks Kitty! I can't believe your grandmothers also died at 94 and 97! What an amazing coincidence! I'd love to hear about their diets and way of life. Look forward to read your post. :)


    2. I don't really know that much about their diets. My mother's mother's father was a German butcher immigrant, so I imagine they ate a lot of meat. My mother's father was Swedish and grew up on a dairy farm, so a lot of dairy. (I grew up with plenty of both in my diet.) My dad's parents were both city raised. As far as I know they just ate the standard diet of the time, which was lots of meat and potatoes and overcooked vegetables. One thing that bothers me is that both my parents developed Type 2 Diabetes in their 50s/60s, but they rarely ate processed food because my mother made everything from scratch. I wonder if it was their alcohol use?? None of my grandparents had it. But I worry about this because I started putting on weight after I turned 40 and it has been a bitch trying to get it off! I used to run but can't anymore because it was so hard on my joints. I've also read that aerobic exercise does very little to help with weight loss, but weight lifting will help. I too find exercise so boring I have a hard time sticking with it. After we move I will have a much more active lifestyle, which will be good for me (and Jim).

      I also did some research on soil depletion, and according to an article in Scientific American (a respectable source), it is a real problem. The mineral content in soil has changed since they first started measuring it in the 50s. The article did not say to what degree the soil has changed, but that most veg still has a good nutritional profile, even if not as good as 50 years ago.


    3. "overcooked vegetables" yikes! my mother cooks cauliflower until it is grey :P I have a theory that Type 2 Diabetes, in a lot of cases, is related to Adrenal Fatigue. The book I have on it said that a lot of people suffering from AD become alcoholics. I'll try to find the info and post it, I can see the connection to a dysfunctional legacy since so many Acons have had to battle alcoholism. xxoo

    4. Fascinating! Would love to read more about that.

  4. Great post Kara.

    I think that you've hit on some great points. I think, sometimes, people are always looking for the "quick fix" the easy plan. Something that they can do, without thinking, and get results. The problem with that is that it doesn't account for an individuality and it doesn't allow for people to really listen to their bodies.

    I wonder if society has just moved away so much from listening to what our bodies are telling us (and what a more "natural" state looks like) that we just can't get it under control?

    I have family members that work themselves to the bone to stay skinny or are always on some new fad diet. It never sticks and then they are on to doing something else that will eventually not work. I think trying to find a more healthy, life time plan is a good idea.

    I don't diet (never have) but eat healthfully (most of the time). I don't eat just to eat and I eat reasonable portions (a process I started years ago, by eating just a little less at each meal. Now, I stop before I feel really full-I figure I can always have more food later). It's rare for me to "clean my plate". I also try to stay active as much as possible, but I never really "exercise". And I've always managed to be pretty healthy and thin (even after two babies.)

    I've enjoyed your posts and look forward to more!

    1. Thank you Jess. What you describe is pretty much what I do too. I'm also a very slow eater and I think that makes a difference too. You're right that people want quick fixes or shortcuts, and there aren't any. It's all about being reasonable. xx

    2. Oh, I eat really slowly too. I stood out in huge contrast to my in-laws whom inhale food. That is one of the reasons they used to steal my food is because they ate all of there's and then saw I still had a "full" plate. It used to drive me crazy, both because I wasn't nearly finished and because they really didn't need any more food. MIL and BIL have this habit of picking at food too. Like MIL will say she is done with food, but then will cut off a little sliver of pizza. And then another, and then another. And pretty soon, she has "slivered" a whole other piece. It's like she doesn't count this as food because it's in such small portions, but it really adds up. I think it's important to be fully in the moment when eating, whether it's eating slowly or making sure you are putting the food on the plate and nothing "sneaks" by!

    3. "inhale food" hahaha, that's hilarious! My brother used to do that too, like, my mother would serve the food and his would disappear in seconds, as if he had "inhaled" it. The thing that gets me with people that pick is that they always say: "I don't know why I'm not losing any weight because I don't eat that much... " Not in one go they don't, but like you say, if they added it all up...

  5. Really great stuff! I learned a lot of things about food I hadn't realised. I have low blood pressure and I put salt on a lot of stuff to suit my taste.

    The one size fits all is tiring to hear. Many speak in these rules, quotes, and cliches - as if they are the golden rules. Maybe some are true but a lot are not.

    Thank you for posting. This really stretched my thinking on food and exercise.