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In all the hullabaloo over dieting during the past several decades, the focus has been on calories: how much sugar and other carbohydrates we take in.

They are an important factor, for sure. They cause much weight gain. When not "burned," sugar turns into fat.

But just about nothing has been said -- until recently -- about a hidden and yet truly big player in gaining pounds: salt. We have mentioned this before. There is new information.

Salt is terrific. Christ even used it as a metaphor. He called those who are good the "salt of the earth." He spoke about the pleasure it gives the taste buds. There's nothing wrong with salt, per se. In fact, we would die without it. In the Old Testament, it was an offering.

Too much, however, is another issue.

And your expanding waistline may be linked to that.

Consider that each time you ingest too much salt, it tells the body that there's an overload and the body immediately begins to store water. It's like little men entering your body and shouting, "Retain water." This is because our systems were created so ingeniously: By retaining water, the body as designed by God keeps the right balance in the body.

Did you know that the level of salt in the blood is nearly the same as that in sea water (along with other minerals)? We match nature. In order for our bodies to function properly, it's important that the concentration of electrolytes in the body remain constant.

And every time we ingest salt in a way that would skew this -- that would mess it up -- the body brings water into the picture. It accumulates liquid.

That's critical because water is heavy. A  gallon weighs eight pounds.

Thus, it's not unusual to see a temporary weight gain of three or more pounds due to a single salty food or snack -- even though the snack certainly doesn't weigh three pounds nor even contain many calories.

Note your waistline the morning after being heavy-handed with the salt shaker or eating high-sodium foods like pizza or chips. It's salt that bloats you.

Restaurants are notorious for over-salting everything. Check out the food channel and watch how chefs pour it on. Fast foods are especially culpable. It's why restaurant food tastes so good. And it's addictive: the day after eating a highly salted meal, we often crave that meal or other food because we are craving the salt. It's the salt we want -- not the food itself! Although the weight gain is temporary, we often perpetuate it by using too much salt regularly. It becomes a vicious cycle.

"Salt, salt, salt," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which surveys restaurants and recently came out with another. "If the meal was high in fat, it was high in salt. If it was low in fat, it was high in salt. It's Salt City at restaurants."

Some meals at restaurants -- particularly the chain restaurants -- contain two to four days worth of salt. Look at these contents!

One nutritional website goes so far as to state: "cutting down on sugar and fat is not necessary to lose weight. Nor is it necessary to be more physically active in order to lose weight. All that is normally necessary to lose weight is to eat less salt/sodium, and, preferably, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, because the potassium these contain helps to displace excess sodium from the body."

Drink a lot of water and it will flush out excess salt and tell the body that it does not need to retain any more water.

Noted one dietician: "If you eat right and exercise at the intensity, frequency and duration proper for you, but still can't get rid of a little paunch here and there, you're probably just not drinking enough water.

"No need to get defensive. You're actually quite normal. Most people don't drink enough water. Most people are also carrying around a few more pounds than they would be if they did drink enough water. If you can't seem to get that weight off, try drowning your sorrows in nature's magical weight-loss mineral (water)."

Besides piling on weight, "salt is probably the single most harmful ingredient in the food supply because it boosts blood pressure, which causes heart attacks and strokes," said Jacobson. You can easily cut down on much of the volume without losing taste.

Do you check sodium on the labels when you shop? Do you pay attention to how salty certain foods are? Are you heavy-handed with the shaker -- and frustrated in attempts to lose weight? Do you pray for the balance that God designed for you?

Be the salt of the earth -- but don't overdose on it!

It is the hidden cause of many extra pounds. And it's difficult to avoid without keeping it in mind constantly.

Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you. And every day, ask the Holy Spirit what you should (and should not) eat.

When you say grace, ask the Lord to make what you eat healthy.

[resources: Foods Jesus Ate and Biblical Cure for Weight Loss]

[see also: Study targets salt in restaurant food]

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