In an otherwise forgettable episode of Star Trek, Dr. McCoy meets a woman whom he believes to be a former lover. Instead, she turns out to be a hideous, shape-changing Salt Monster who kills humans by extracting all of the salt from their bodies through giant suckers on her hands.
Today, I have a sense of what the salt monster must have felt like after a satisfying high-sodium meal. Yesterday I unwittingly ate something that was high in salt, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a mouth that felt like the salt-studded rim of a margarita glass. I brushed my teeth again and drank lots of water before going back to bed, and when I woke up this morning my tongue still tasted like it was dipped in seawater. When I’ve had an unfortunate close encounter with salty foods, the physical effect extends beyond the desiccated mouth region to encompass the rest of my body, which generally feels like crap. Studies indicate, of course, that too much salt increases your blood pressure, and that high blood pressure in turn can make you a candidate for a heart attack or stroke.
I try to avoid salty foods, but it isn’t easy. If you go to the grocery store and randomly look at ingredient labels on food items — a government initiative that even free-market types must admit has achieved the important social good of allowing people to know what they are consuming — you will be amazed at the reported levels of sodium. Virtually every processed food is loaded with salt, either to add flavor or enhance preservation or both.
The American Heart Association has some helpful tips on how to identify and avoid salty foods, both at the grocer and when eating out. My approach is to learn from experience. When I wake up feeling like the Salt Monster, I remember what I ate the day before and I resolve to avoid it in the future. It’s why I don’t eat chips, it’s why I never eat Chinese carryout anymore, and it’s why you won’t find canned soup in our cupboards.