Basically, there are three types of food grade salt we can buy – standard table salt, sea salt and rock salt. Within these three categories there are numerous variations in terms of source and chemical make-up.
Salt is a crystalline mineral that’s made from sodium and chlorine (NaCl). These two elements are essential for life. We cannot live without them because they contribute to numerous critical biological processes, including:
- Regulating the amount of water that’s in and around your cells
- Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells
- Helping the brain to function
- Helping the nerves send out electrical impulses
- Aiding digestion and metabolism
- Supporting adrenal function
- Maintaining and regulating blood pressure
If the elements that make up salt are so important for our health then why does salt have such a bad reputation? There is actually a significant difference between natural salt and the refined salt we buy as a food flavouring.
Unrefined Salts vs Refined Table Salt
It can be helpful to think of salt in the same way you think of sugar.
Refined sugar has very low levels of essential and non-essential minerals and cofactors which are useful in helping the body metabolise sugar better. Without them, sugar is just calories.
Processed salt is similar. Refined, industrial grade table salt has had all of these trace elements removed. It is pure sodium chloride, with an anti-caking agent and, in some cases, iodine added.
Unrefined salts, whether mined from the earth or harvested from the sea, contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, often in the same balance as are available in human blood. For the most part, the various grades of salt are all the same; chemically most are greater than 99% sodium chloride, but the structure varies widely.
Sea Salt vs Rock Salt
Salt is everywhere on earth, in the air, soil and water.
Some salt is on the surface of the earth, the dried-up residue of ancient seas like the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Ancient sea beds can also be found underground where salt can be mined or occurs naturally in mineral deposits, where it is known as rock salt. In New Zealand we produce salt from seawater through evaporation because we don’t have salt deposits. Both mined and sea salt are 99% Sodium Chloride.
Rock salt occurs in crystalline form and is usually gray in color, although there are rock salts available in other colors, depending upon the type & amount of impurities present in them. Rock salt is iodized industrially and often bleached and mixed with anti-caking agents. This is what is used to make table salt and then used in food production. Unrefined salts contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, but in minute quantities. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health, and which help the body metabolize the sodium better. The more sodium we eat, the more potassium and magnesium we need to maintain balance, which can’t be maintained exclusively by what’s in the salt. Dutch researchers have determined that a low potassium intake has the same impact on your blood pressure as high salt consumption does. Striving for a diet rich in magnesium & potassium will help balance salt intake.
Sea salt, on the other hand, is created by evaporating sea water. It is white in color and much better in quality contains iron, sulfur, magnesium and many other minerals such as iodine.
It’s been claimed that Himalayan Pink salt is healthier because it contains more minerals than regular unrefined salts. Although Himalayan salt contains key minerals like phosphorus, bromine, boron, and zinc, among others, some nutritionist claim the quantity of the minerals is so low it can’t make a significant difference to human health. Like all other unrefined salts, Himalayan Pink salt is 99% sodium chloride!
Why do we crave salt if it’s bad for us?
Nutritionists claim that a craving for salt actually camouflages the real need – for a diet which is minerally richer. They are more likely to recommend a diet rich in vegetables and plants (the main source of minerals for our bodies) than suggesting increased salt intake!
Vegetation from the sea, seaweeds, offer a very concentrated source of minerals, up to 20 times the amount found in land vegetables for the same weight. Seaweeds can also have a salty flavour (depending on how they are prepared) which satisfies the salt craving, yet provides a richer mineral offering. A little seaweed everyday goes a long way.
Salt vs Sugar, both bad?
Added sugars in processed foods are likely to have a greater role in high blood pressure and heart disease and stroke, than added salt, say doctors in an analysis of the published evidence in the online journal Open Heart.
Dietary approaches to lower high blood pressure have historically focused on cutting salt intake. But the potential benefits of this approach “are debatable,” say the authors.
This is because the average reductions in blood pressure achieved by restricting salt intake have proven to be relatively small, and there is some evidence to suggest that 3-6 g salt daily may be optimal for health, and that intake below 3 g may actually be harmful.
The type of salt consumed is also important (as explained above): unrefined salts contain other minerals (cofactors) that support the body’s ability to metabolize salt. Most salt in the diet comes from processed foods. In addition to using mostly refined salt, these foods also happen to be a rich source of added sugars.
“Compelling evidence from basic science, population studies, and clinical trials implicates sugars, and particularly the monosaccharide fructose, as playing a major role in the development of hypertension [high blood pressure],” scientist from Open Heart write. Around 300 years ago, people only consumed a few pounds of sugar a year, whereas current estimates suggest that average consumption in the US is 77-152 pounds a year—equivalent to 24-47 teaspoons a day. A high fructose diet has also been linked to an unfavourable blood fat profile, higher fasting blood insulin levels, and a doubling in the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.