What’s the deal with salt? We love it, our bodies require it and our modern diets make it almost impossible to avoid. Throughout history salt has been highly valued for its effective preservative and flavor enhancing qualities. We know that salt is an essential element, necessary to control our body’s fluid balance and support nerve and muscle function. There is great debate over whether certain types of salt are healthier than others and how much or how little salt is necessary for good health and bodily function. And like most things in life, there is a balance that needs to be met.
To prevent hypertension, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day, even less for those who have medical conditions or are over age 51. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart attacks and strokes and lower sodium intake appears to modestly reduce those risks. Even so, other studies conclude that we don’t really know if low salt diets improve or worsen health outcomes. To be sure, too many Americans consume well above the recommended amounts of salt, especially those with diets high in processed, fast or junk foods.
There’s general agreement that avoidance of highly processed foods that contain high amounts of hidden salt will benefit health. Yet, consuming too little salt also brings consequences. Sodium is an essential nutrient that serves a multitude of functions. Our cells rely on sodium to regulate electrical activity, help control heart rate and aid brain cell signaling. Ironically, as sodium intake drops, the risks of insulin resistance and higher blood cholesterol increase, which may actually escalate cardiovascular concerns.
Some may wonder why salt has been demonized when it may actually be the processing that is causing it to be labeled as unhealthy. What we think of as table salt has been ground and subjected to high levels of heat while undergoing processing. Processing removes the natural trace mineral content of salt, stripping iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc along with co-factors, which help regulate hydration, digestive and immune systems and support proper thyroid and immune function. During table salt processing, anti-caking chemicals such as aluminum are added to keep it free flowing.
Since 1924, table salt has been fortified with iodine as a public health measure to prevent iodine deficiency, a leading cause of hypothyroidism and intellectual disability. Iodine is necessary for healthy thyroid function, hormone synthesis and metabolism regulation. At that time, iodine rich foods such as seaweed, dairy, eggs and seafood were not readily available to everyone. However, the addition of iodine applies to table salt only, as salt added during processed food manufacturing does not necessarily contain iodine.
All salt, whether mined from caves or salt flats or produced from evaporated sea water from today’s oceans or those that disappeared long ago, is the same chemical — sodium chloride. Some would argue that salts such as Pink Himalayan, Black Hawaiian, Celtic or kosher salts are healthier than table salt. To be sure, certain salt varieties that are minimally processed do contain the minerals, trace elements and co-factors that aid nutrient assimilation on a cellular level. Sea salt may also contain heavy metals that are found in the oceans, although the natural selenium content of sea salt may offset trace amounts of heavy metals and remove them from the body.
Some wonder why minerals are removed in the first place. Why not just avoid unhealthy processed foods loaded with highly refined salts and added chemicals and simply consume whole foods and salt in its natural original form? No one is advocating for heavy salt use, but adding a pinch of unadulterated salt to optimize the flavor of whole foods may be a healthier personal choice. As always, moderation is the key. Although natural sea salt does contain trace amounts of iodine, those who choose to avoid table salt in favor of natural sea salt should be sure to include some dietary iodine-rich foods. As opposed to added iodine, iodine that occurs naturally in foods is highly bioavailable, allowing your body to get the full benefit of the nutrient.
When you think about it, there are reasons why our perspiration and tears taste salty or why breathing salt air or swimming in salt water is good for our lungs and our skin. Salt is found in every cell of the body and amounts to about 1 cupful at any given time. A healthy body is able to adjust salt levels to maintain peak bodily functions. However, hydration is extremely important. With summer upon us, be sure to drink enough water to satisfy your thirst, as this helps to ensure that excess sodium is passed out of the body. And don’t neglect reading food labels to help track the amounts of sodium you are getting in your diet. Preparing whole foods at home and avoiding processed and packaged foods may be the best way to ensure a healthy sodium balance along with overall health.
Natural unprocessed, mineral rich sea salt will not be pure white and may be slightly pink or grayish in color.
Premier Pink Salt by Premier Research Labs – This premium unrefined salt blend combines solar evaporated Mediterranean Sea salt with pink Alaea Hawaiian sea salt, both naturally dense in trace elements. No anti-clumping agents, iodine or additives.
Kelp with Natural Selenium and Iodine by Ecological Formulas – This scientifically designed formula contains naturally sourced marine kelp, rich in iodine and other essential trace minerals. Wheat and yeast free.
Kelp by Progressive Labs – This product is sourced from Atlantic Sea Kelp and is a good source of B vitamins, iodine, minerals and trace elements. Vegetarian capsule.
Types of Salt: Himalayan vs. Kosher vs. Regular vs. Sea Salt. http://authoritynutrition.com/different-types-of-salt/
The Truth About Salt and Your Body. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/sodium-intake-truth-about-salt_n_4213554.html
Why Our Tears Are Salty. http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/3319/1/Why-Our-Tears-Are-Salty.html
Sea Salt vs. Table Salt. http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/sea-salt-vs-table-salt/