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What is in a Name? The Case of Salt and Sodium.

July 19, 2011 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Have you ever thought about words and what they mean? Many words have several different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example take the word “salt”. ‘Salt’ is commonly used to refer to one specific kind of salt, called sodium chloride (NaCl) or table salt. However, because salt has an important place in our history there are also a number of phrases using the word salt with different meanings than ‘sodium chloride’. For example you might have heard “take it with a grain of salt”, “to be worth one’s salt”, or to “salt away for future use”.

Sometimes the words “salt” and “sodium” are used interchangeably. For example, when dietitians and doctors talk about salt they are probably referring to sodium. That is because it is the sodium part of sodium chloride (salt) that raises blood pressure. Since salt is the primary source of sodium in Canadians’ diets it may seem reasonable that the words ‘salt’ and ‘sodium’ often get treated as the same thing. Salt and sodium may seem similar, but they are different. If salt was a recipe, then sodium would be one of its two ingredients. While salt is our primary source of sodium there are a number of other common food ingredients that also contain sodium. Here are some examples:

Food Ingredients with Sodium Function
Sodium Chloride (table salt) Used to enhance the flavour of foods, prevent microbial growth, and condition the gluten in bread dough.  There is about 2,300 milligrams of sodium in one teaspoon of salt.
Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) Used to leaven muffins, cakes, and cookies.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Used to enhance the flavour of foods.
Sodium Benzoate Used to help preserve foods by preventing the growth of microoranisms

Just a few thoughts to salt away for future contemplation...

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Comments (1)

thea2cats

Posted on Wednesday July 27, 2011 a 10:18pm

Very interesting, though I have heard of all of those food ingredients, I had never put two and two together that each of those ingredients contained sodium (I just thought it was an incidental part of their names, or never gave it any thought at all). So when I am trying to lower the sodium in my diet, I can now look for any ingredient name which includes the word "sodium", and try to avoid them.

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