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The very unexpected health benefit of eating salt.

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Of all the items in your pantry right now, salt is probably the most maligned.

Despite being mighty delicious (mmm, salted caramel…), this mineral has earned a pretty bad rep in the nutrition world. Eating too much of it has long been linked to heightened blood pressure, which can contribute to a host of health problems like stroke and heart disease.

Fun fact: here in Australia, we apparently eat three times more salt than we should for good health. Whoops.

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However, new research suggests salt could have an unexpected health benefit that’s been overlooked. A report in the journal Cell Metabolism claims salt might be capable of protecting our bodies from the growth of bacteria, and aiding our immune system.

In a series of studies, German researchers examined cells from humans and mice, and noticed that where there was an infection present, there was a higher level of sodium in that area. This was particularly evident in mice that had been bitten by another mouse; there was more salt in their skin.

A great excuse to eat hot chips! Okay, maybe not...

As TIME reports, lead researcher Jonathan Jantsch is now hypothesising that some skin cells might "transport sodium preferentially to sites where bacterial populations are high in order to create another barrier preventing the microbes from entering deeper into the body". The study findings also suggested bacteria grew better when there was no salt present in the cells.

It's an interesting finding when you consider salt water (saline) is so often touted as a healing aid. Did your mum ever tell you a quick swim in the ocean would help clear up that graze on your knee? Maybe she was on to something. Likewise, salt has been used for centuries to prevent meat and other perishable foods from spoiling (in the pre-refrigerator days, that is).

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However, don't grab the table salt and shake it like a Polaroid picture just yet. These findings don't necessarily mean that a high-salt diet is advisable; the mice used in the study were fed an extremely high-sodium diet, and the researchers are still figuring out the link between salt in the diet and its anti-bacterial healing properties. What this information does suggest is that salt-based wound dressings could have some advantages.

Look, don't be too disheartened. There's some evidence floating around that salt isn't the devil in disguise.

RELATED: Lager is now good for you… and other great news.

Last year, Israeli researchers claimed sodium has depression-fighting qualities, which they speculated is just one reason we crave it so much.

There's even some conjecture around the salt-blood pressure relationship; according to Scientific American, a 2011 study found no solid evidence that reducing salt intake reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke or death among people whose blood pressure was normal or high. A separate study claimed participants who consumed less sodium had a greater risk of dying from heart disease.

So yes, in other words, the jury is still out on salt. These supposedly unhealthy foods, on the other hand...

Tags: health , nutrition , research , salt
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