It seems like everyone is watching their salt intake these days. But, should they? Maybe not. Here’s why you should fill your salt shaker with natural sea salt, and why you should be eating more, not less, of this wonderful mineral.
What You Need to Know About Refined Salt
Salt is sodium chloride. Commercial refined salt has had all, or nearly all, of its minerals stripped and is ground into tiny particles. Because heavily ground salt has a tendency to stick or clump, manufacturers add anti-caking agents so that it flows freely. Food-grade salt is 97 percent sodium chloride, with a small amount of iodine added.
Years ago, iodine deficiency was identified as an epidemic, so salt manufacturers began adding iodine to their table salt. It was a successful public health initiative and an important step toward minimizing iodine deficiency—something that results in hypothyroidism, mental retardation and other health problems.
Benefits of Eating Salt
Salt has many benefits for the body. For example, if you don’t consume enough salt, you may suffer from chronic, low-grade, inflammation. The body requires about 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day, or 8 grams. If this isn’t part of your diet, your body shifts into a sort of “emergency mode,” sparing sodium so that it can maintain fluid balance and blood pressure.
When this doesn’t work, an enzyme called renin and a hormone called aldosterone rise. This is what starts various chronic inflammatory processes.
A lack of salt can result in dehydration, as sodium and chloride are important electrolytes. Aside from adding flavor to your meals, you could make electrolyte drinks. A simple concoction of lime or lemon juice with salt added—and a little sugar—can help keep you energized.
Other benefits of drinking salt water include better sleep, improved detoxification, bone health, better skin health, lower blood sugar, reduction in muscle cramps, healthier veins and even weight loss.
Sea Salt and Trace Minerals
Natural sea salt contains all of the trace minerals that nature endowed it with. Processing of sea salt is usually minimal, with evaporation being the most popular method. As sea water is evaporated, the salt is left behind. It can then be cleaned of debris and packaged for sale.
Sea salt is usually not ground as finely as table salt because no fillers or anti-caking agents are added. Different sea salts offer different benefits in the form of mineral impurities. These impurities change the color and taste of the salt.
For example, a pink salt, like Himalayan salt, is mined in Pakistan and contains trace amounts of iron oxide—rust—which is responsible for its pink color. It also contains 84 different trace elements.
Grey salt may contain higher amounts of trace minerals, which account for its color. However, it also has higher water content, making it a “wet salt.” This makes it ideal for some cooking applications where finishing salt is desirable.
Natural Sea Salt vs. Refined Salt
The major difference between table salt and sea salt is the number of additives that are used in table salt. Iodine is also added to table salt, so if you’re worried about iodine deficiency, you should consider taking in more salt with iodine added.
If you’d rather not have additives, like anti-caking agents, or you prefer chunky salt to ground salt, opt for sea salt.
Don’t sweat the differences in minerals—there’s not much of a difference between table salt and sea salt in this respect. Buy salt based on the taste your prefer.
A Word of Warning: High Blood Pressure
A lot of doctors are still telling patients to lower their salt intake if they have high blood pressure. This is because some older studies suggest that excess salt consumption may raise blood pressure. However, newer studies show that high blood pressure may actually be due to insufficient potassium and magnesium levels.
Decreasing your sodium intake might help, but you might also need to increase your intake of fish, start a magnesium supplement or potassium supplement (contact your doctor before taking supplemental potassium), and eat more bananas.
At the end of the day, eating salt is something that you will enjoy and it’s good for you. Don’t shy away from it, and make sure that you’re getting at least 8 grams a day to maintain your body’s most basic needs.
Jenny Bennett is a dietician. She loves sharing her health insights on the web. Her articles appear on health and wellness websites.