I normally follow what you could call a typical New Yorker’s health regimen: lots of restaurant food, occasional guilty forays into fast-food land, plenty of exercise, and a moderate amount of drinking. So when I set out, in the name of investigative journalism, on a nine-day high-sodium bender, I was, to say the least, concerned. Before starting my experiment, I consulted Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, an integrative-health specialist, to establish that I wouldn’t, you know, kill myself. After checking my blood pressure (110/70), body-fat percentage (9.6; the national male average is 17), urine (slightly alkaline, i.e., good), and liver, kidney, and white-blood-cell and intra- and intercellular-fluid levels (all normal), Morrison declared me “the perfect specimen of health.” He was reasonably certain I wouldn’t die.
8:47 a.m.: I wake up feeling great: slept for eight hours, my skin is clear, lots of energy. Breakfast is ham and cheese on a Cheddar biscuit at Amy’s Bread. Salty enough, but I can do better.
12:25 p.m.: Hit the Breslin for a business lunch. If there’s one place to out-salt oneself, it’s here. I start with the caramel popcorn, then order a crock of baked beans with pork fat and a larger crock of onion-and-bone-marrow soup.
6:06 p.m.: I have a headache and skip dinner.
9:57 a.m.: My head is pounding. Morrison says as my sodium level rises, my body will compensate by sapping other electrolytes and minerals, causing a general feeling of crumminess. Breakfast is a sausage-and-cheese omelette with home fries from Nisos, a cheap Chelsea diner.
1:34 p.m.: The grains of salt on my French fries at Bill’s Bar & Burger loom grotesquely large. Am I even hungry?
9:05 p.m.: I’m belchy and gassy and spend 30 minutes in the bathroom.
My energy is sagging. I’ve got an angry zit right between my eyes. Thanks to my now-acute stomach cramps, I’m mean, and so my wife, Ana, and I bicker more. I leave her behind en route to New Mexico to visit family and follow the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a veritable hajj for saltivores. Total four-day tally: five green-chile cheeseburgers, five sides of fries (four straight, one curly), an order of “Tater Gems,” three breakfast burritos, one pork-shoulder tamale, six Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Stix. I detect noticeable mood swings. Or maybe that’s just from visiting my mother.
11:30 a.m.: Back in New York and desperately in need of a detox. I sleep late and dream of greens. My stomach, which was passably taut a week ago, is now visibly doughy.
9:32 p.m.: With the end in sight, I make my last meal at Diner, where even the salads come with bacon and a fried egg on top. My taste buds are so damaged, everything has the same salty taste.
8 a.m.: Meet with Dr. Morrison for my post-experiment checkup. My sodium and chloride levels are nearing the upper range. My urine has gotten more acidic, and although I didn’t feel it, I’m dehydrated. The level of fluid in my cells is still fine, but that’s only because of my good level of health to begin with. “The really striking thing,” says Morrison, “is that you lost two pounds of muscle and gained two pounds of fat.” What if I were to continue my salt binge for, say, a year? “Every year on a high-sodium, high-saturated-fat diet,” he says, “takes three months off your life.” By that math, I may have just shortened my life expectancy by 2.25 days—my last weekend on Earth. I leave Dr. Morrison’s and head for the salad bar.