The Salt Monster

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.

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ESFOUO

Monday morning when I woke up, it was clear that the day before I had been exposed to ESFOUO — that is, excessively salty food of unknown origin.

The interior of my mouth was puckered, my tongue was coated in a brackish seawater film, and it felt like you could chip salt crystals off the crust on my teeth.  I wanted to drink about a gallon of water to rehydrate.

My brushing the night before had not saved me from my briny fate.  It was as if the salt from the ESFOUO had found every crack and crevice unreachable by human toothbrush and lain dormant, then rose and spread its foul dessication while I slept.

What was the ESFOUO?  Who knows?  I hadn’t eaten cheap Chinese food, which is a standard ESFOUO culprit.  (I sometimes wonder whether General Tso actually defeated opposing armies by chicken-based salt poisoning.)  I’d had a superdog and fries at the Browns game, drank a beer pre-game, ate some cereal, and had a piece of store-bought pecan pie with Cool Whip.  So, which was it?  Was the superdog chock full of salty preservatives, or was it the pecan pie?  Or did that unique combination of grub meld into a witches’ brew of salinity that attacked my defenseless mouth?

It took repeated brushings, Listerine garglings, and mass water infusion to return my mouth to a passable state.  With that disgusting experience still fresh in my memory, I’ll be examining every morsel carefully for the next few days, wondering if I am unwittingly ingesting another ESFOUO.