Salt has been given a bad rep — blamed for high blood pressure and heart disease. People have become afraid to use salt and are confused about which salt to use and how much. The issues around salt are not simple but let’s not forget that in ancient times, salt was so valuable it was used as currency and has been recorded in Chinese history as far back as 4700 years ago.. What did they know then that we have forgotten today?
Most people use the commercial table salt purchased at the local supermarket. Table salt has been preferred by modern cooks because it is processed to have a very fine texture that can be easily dissolved. This salt comes from underground salt deposits but is highly processed.
The processing of table salt includes bleaching for that bright white appearance and also the addition of calcium silicate to prevent clumping. Iodine (a cheap hard to absorb form) is also added to table salt.
Table salt has a sharp taste. Interestingly, a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt. Something to keep in mind when using either of the latter. Perhaps this is why people are getting too much salt — processed foods contain table salt which contains much more salt than unprocessed sea salt.
Kosher Salt — Useful in a Brine
Kosher salt may be derived from mined salt deposits or from the sea. It has large crystals that work well to draw moisture out of meats and other foods and so is used in the koshering process. It is useful in the kitchen in brining your pastured chicken — making it tender and juicy!
Kosher salt actually tastes less salty than the other salts and that is why brined or koshered meats do not taste too salty even though they have been soaked in salt water. It is usually minimally processed. I like this one because it contains only salt – no additives.
Sea salt comes in many varieties depending on where in the world it is harvested. Each type of sea salt has its own unique taste, color and blend of trace minerals. While it is more costly than table salt, most sea salts are not processed at all and they are full of important trace minerals. They can be used for cooking (the coarse varieties are good here as they will open up and release their trace minerals into the cooked food), baking and at the table. Sea salt is also a good choice when using salt to ferment foods.
Sea salt is harvested by the simple process of evaporating sea water — leaving all the minerals intact. These minerals add trace elements as well as color and texture to the salt.
The many varieties, pink, gray, black or white, fine or coarse — sea salt crystals hold the essence of the sea. Within their crystals lies a teeny tiny drop of the sea water. This is what makes a good sea salt slightly moist — the way it should be.
What About Iodine?
Iodine is also added to table salt as a way to prevent iodine deficiency, a mineral critical for proper thyroid function. Iodine is also necessary for proper brain development and is considered the most common cause of preventable brain damage in the world.
Sea salt has naturally occurring iodine in small quantities.
Of course, with all the hoopla over people eating too much salt (that is a much debatable condition) people are choosing to not use salt and so are becoming iodine deficient — a condition rampant in the western world for other reasons as well, but that will be another post.
Salt is necessary for life. We are walking salt puddles — our blood salt content closely resembles the salt content in sea water. It has been used in much higher quantities in human history and has only recently been industrialized and adulterated.
Highly processed foods and packaged foods contain a lot of table salt (no nutrition there) and these are the foods that people with high blood pressure need to avoid.
New Dietary Guidelines
The new guidelines recommend daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg among persons who are 51 and older and 1,500 mg for those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
This ignores or overlooks recent research that points to obesity and other causes, not salt, as the main culprit in rising blood pressure rates. Many nutritionists predict the guidelines will worsen, not improve, the obesity crisis, because people will consume more calories to satisfy their salt appetite for salt.
Note: Most of the studies indicate amounts for sodium intake as opposed to amounts for salt. A general rule of thumb is that 1500 – 2300 mg of sodium (the current guidelines) translates to 4 – 6 gms of salt.
Morton Satin is known as the Salt Guru and is the Vice President of Science and Research for the Salt Institute.
Mr. Satin researched military records in order to find out how much salt is needed. He found that between the war of 1812 and WWII, people were eating 18 – 20 gms of salt a day! In those days everything was preserved with salt.
Today, around the world, people who can get salt, eat between 7 – 12 gms of salt a day. About half of what it used to be.
Digestion – Salt provides us with sodium and chloride ions that are needed to expedite digestion. The enzymes that facilitate carbohydrate breakdown are sodium dependent. Sodium is also required for the manufacture of bile which helps emulsify fats for easy absorption.
Chloride, which only comes from dietary salt, is necessary for the body to make hydrochloric acid. HCl is needed for protein digestion. Adequate HCl is also needed to protect us from pathogens that may enter the body through the mouth with food.
Blood Pressure — Sodium in salt is necessary for the regulation of blood volume and pressure. While there are some individuals who are salt sensitive, the majority of people will not be affected by a reduction or an increase in salt intake. Herein lies the problem of blaming salt for increasing blood pressure. In many people, salt makes no difference. There are many other reasons for increases in blood pressure, such as stress, age, exercise, genetics and diet.
The Cochrane Collaboration and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force show that there is insufficient evidence of a health benefit for low-sodium diets. As evidence from three studies of the NHANES database for the U.S. and independent studies in Scotland and the Netherlands note, there is either an absence of cardiovascular health benefits for those on lower sodium diets — or an actual increase in risk for those following the recommendation to reduce dietary salt.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, MD, PhD, et al,(JAMA) involving 3,681 people, correlated salt intake with hypertension and cardiovascular disease and death. The results may surprise you. The researchers found that the people with greater salt intake had significantly lower rates of heart disease and mortality.
Adrenal Function — The adrenal glands need salt for the transport of vitamin C into the gland. Vitamin C is a vital cofactor to enzymes that are involved in the production of adrenal hormones.
The adrenal hormones include epinephrine and norepinephrine, all the sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, aldosterone which regulates blood pressure and other hormones that help regulate mineral metabolism and stress responses. Salt craving is a sign of low adrenal function.
Blood Sugar – Salt actually helps regulate and control insulin and blood sugar. A study by R Garg et al from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied this association.
They took two large groups of healthy people and gave one group a low salt diet and the other a high salt diet. The low salt group developed insulin resistance in 7 days!
Brain Function – In order for neurons to communicate with each other and send messages to all parts of the body, the proper concentration of sodium and chloride ions is necessary. Action potentials (the firing of neurons) are only achieved with sodium and chloride present in sufficient quantities.
Nerve transmission cannot occur without salt. A study from The Research Unit for the Study of Hydromineral Metabolism, Belgium, showed that low salt diets impair attention and gait in the elderly, putting them at risk for hip and other fractures. All nursing home patients are automatically put on low salt diets.
Infants require salt in order for their brain cells to develop. It has been found that infants fed formula without salt had problems in neurological development.
Salt Given a Bad Rep
While salt is an essential component of our body (the body contains about 8 ounces of salt) it has been demonized almost as much as cholesterol. Current USDA Guidelines call for lowering the amount of salt Americans should consume to as low as 1500mg a day in at-risk people.
Again we have a guideline for lowering a substance that is totally necessary for good health but the recommendations are opposite. We are born with salt receptors for a reason — we crave salt for a reason.
We need salt – good sea salt.
Reclaim your salt.