“Great news! Processed food isn’t as bad as you’ve been told!”
How I wish that could be the headline for this article, but microwave meals and processed convenience foods are still killing us softly, as I’ve reported before. This time, the study points to a considerable increase in auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis, alopecia, asthma, and eczema.
Whether its junk food from fast-food chains or junk food that is drowning in preservatives from your grocery store, this particular study from Yale University in the U.S and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, as well as another from Harvard, reports that junk food diets are to blame for an increase in these diseases.
Specifically, it is the refined sugar and highly processed salt causing the major decline in health – but of course we can’t overlook the unhealthy ingredients as a whole – from artificial colors to genetically modified ingredients.
Taking dietary salt to task in this case, and as reported in Nature, Yale researchers showed that it can induce and worsen pathogenic immune system responses in mice and that the response is regulated by genes already implicated in a variety of autoimmune diseases.
Dr. David Hafler, the Gilbert H. Glaser Professor of Neurology, professor of immunobiology, chair of the Department of Neurology, and senior author of the Yale paper, stated:
“These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.”
Junk Food Diets
When researchers added salt to the diet of mice, it encouraged production of a type of T cells previously associated with autoimmune diseases. Mice on a high-salt diet developed a more severe form of an MS animal model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis.
This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases.
Fast food restaurants and processed grocery store foods are the culprit. They are the largest source of refined salts in the American diet, but this trend is showing up in other countries as well, since fast food chains have infiltrated the entire global economy.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal sent out an international team of researchers to compare the salt content of 2,124 items from fast food establishments such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway. While salt content varied in each establishment, U.S. fast foods had more than twice the salt of other countries’ fast foods.
Legislators have forced the reduction of salt in other countries, but US regulators have allowed the fast food and convenience food industries to go salt crazy, according to Norm Campbell, M.D., one of the study authors and a blood-pressure specialist at the University of Calgary.
Part of this phenomenon is due to the ‘low-fat’ food label. Essentially, in order to make foods taste better, food makers rely on salt to make food palatable. A salad dressing may be labeled low-fat for instance and contain only .5 grams of fat, but it will be bursting at the seams with 510 mg of salt. In the study, one item from Subway, a 6-inch roasted garlic loaf without meat or any other sandwich contents (just the bread) – contained 1260 mg of salt. That’s equivalent to around 14 strips of bacon.
Thankfully, it looks like fast food giants like McDonald’s are continuously seeing a decline in sales – which represents our collective rejection of junk food.
If salt targets T-helper cells in the body, the very same cells that help other cells fight infections that arise from unwanted bacteria or viruses, then you can imagine what a diet of fast food does to the immune system.
Mice fed a diet high in refined salts saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems that promoted inflammation.
Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines (proteins used to pass messages between cells) released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual.
The Good News
We weren’t designed to process refined sodium chloride – it has no nutritional value, but salt filled with minerals like Himalayan sea salt or celtic salt can promote good health instead of strip our immunity from us.
These types of salts differ from junk-food salt. They contain minerals which are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated, according to Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life.
When we eat mineralized, natural salts, we are promoting health. Junk food additives like refined salt are mineral-empty and cause ill health.
||Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.