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Use more salt, but eat less of it

Are you ready for a column devoted entirely to salt? I could write endlessly on this topic — there are so many possibilities.

I'll give you just a glimpse — but I won't go into industrial impact (all those manufacturing, medical and chemical applications), because I don't completely understand them. Plus, it doesn't interest me all that much "¦ at least today.

Let's start with nutritional considerations. We need salt in our diets, just not so much. Nutritionists tell us to read nutritional labels and opt for less than 300 milligrams of salt (i.e. sodium) per serving. In order to make my point, I am sitting here at my computer with a can of soup in front of me, randomly selected from our pantry. It happens to be chicken rice with vegetables. Sounds fairly benign, don't you think?

I look at it closely. I start with the nutritional label on the slightly-oversized, attractively blue can. It contains two servings and each has a walloping 870 mg of sodium. If I ate a whole can of that soup for lunch, which I have been known to do, I would consume more than 70 percent of the sodium I should have in a given day. (We need less than 2,300 milligrams per day, about a quarter of a teaspoon.)

Contemplate that blood-pressure raising point for a moment while I make few more observations.

Salt is in everything. Fast foods have huge amounts of salt per serving. In a fast-food restaurant there won't be a nutritional label on the burger wrapper but you might try the back of the place mat on your tray. By the way, it's entirely possible to eat an entire day's allowance of salt in a single big, fat burger.

Do this for me, if you will. Eat less salt — do it by reading labels. And ditch the salt shaker. Then take it a step further by redirecting the use of the salt in your cupboard. Illustrations follow.

Any spill on your stove can be cleaned up more easily if you sprinkle salt on it first. Salt can remove tea or coffee stains from cups and mugs and help get rid of excess grease on a roasting pan.

Smelly kitchen? Pour 1 cup of salt and 2 cups of very hot water down your sink drain to eliminate odor.

Is your sink a little clogged? Combine a half cup of salt and a half cup of baking soda, pour it down the drain and then flush it with hot water.

You can use salt to remove the tarnish from silverware and blot out a red-wine stain on the carpet, too.

A saltwater gargle is an effective remedy for sore throats, and a temporary solution for a toothache (try rinsing with a mixture of warm water, 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt).

Poison ivy or poison oak clear up more quickly by soaking irritated skin in hot saltwater. The possibilities are endless. Try www.wisegeek.com for more ideas.

One more request. Put your salt container under the kitchen sink (next to those other environmentally friendly cleaning products such as baking soda and vinegar. You don't have to eliminate salt from your life — just re-purpose it.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.