For thousands of years, salt was a highly desired commodity along trade routes. In fact, salt is so essential for good health that it was long used as a form of currency in trade. It was often said that an item for sale was “worth its salt.”
Today, the whole foods, healthy eating movement has put sea salt squarely at the forefront of its recommendations. Choosing sea salt over table salt is definitely a good thing, but just because a food label says a salt product is from the sea doesn’t mean it’s really sea salt. Food processors have jumped on the whole foods bandwagon to profit from people’s increased health consciousness while at the same time offering them salt products that well…aren’t worth their salt.
Salt or Substitute?
One of the first absolutes someone with high blood pressure learns is that salt is bad. Quite often, they’re put on a low or no salt diet as part of their treatment plan. This is largely due to the widely held misconception that the sodium in salt causes hypertension, which can lead to a heart attack.
This error comes from falsely equating sodium with salt. If you open up your kitchen cupboard and pull out your salt shaker, it’s probably filled with Morton’s table salt. That’s the fine white substance that looks indistinguishable from processed sugar. Nearly 98% of conventional table salt is made up of only two elements, sodium and chloride. The other 2% is made up of chemical additives, including anti-caking agents that prevent clumping and ensure a smooth flow when pouring. Table salt is a highly processed “salt product” that in no way resembles the nutrient profile of salt as it actually occurs in nature in the sea.
In reality, sodium and chloride are just two of more than 50 elements that naturally occur in sea salt.
Commercial producers strip sea salt down to its bare bones components of just sodium and chloride, then sell the other trace minerals to secondary companies for their own uses. To them, salt is worth much more when sold for its parts, than individually as a whole food.
Even worse, heavy metals like aluminum are used in the stripping process, which often leaves traces in the finished salt product. The loss of 50 trace minerals that are essential for health leaves consumers of table salt in a state of chronic malnourishment that plays a significant role in many disease processes over time.
Manufacturers always add iodine to their salt products because most people don’t get nearly enough iodine in their daily diets to support thyroid health. Never mind that iodine is not a part of salt as it occurs in nature. Bleaching also happens in the final stages to give it that snow white appearance, which only adds to its toxicity. What we’re left with is a product that occurs nowhere in the natural world. Is it any wonder then that our bodies would react adversely when we consume it?
The assumption that high levels of sodium intake can cause hypertension isn’t correct. Blood pressure is more affected by an imbalance of other nutrients in relation to sodium levels, especially calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. However, for those already suffering from hypertension, most likely caused by a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar, consuming excessive levels of sodium found in table salt can worsen the issue. One of the ways it does this is by causing the blood vessels to retain too much water, creating an increase in pressure against the arterial walls, forcing the heart to work harder than it should.
In healthy people, a diet that’s too low in sodium actually increases chances of cardiovascular problems. A study of nearly 70,000 people without hypertension recently showed that those eating more than 7g of sodium daily experienced no increase in death or risk of cardiovascular disease. In contrast, those who ate less than 3g per day had a 26% increase in risk of death from cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke when compared to those who consumed 4g-5g per day. People who already had high blood pressure and consumed more than 7g of sodium per day saw their risk of heart attack and stroke increase by 23%, but when they consumed less than 3g per day, their risk grew even more to 34%.
Naturally, sodium is essential for good health in everyone, even those with high blood pressure. It is a crucial component of countless biological systems including regulating blood sugar, proper hydration, thyroid function, adrenal function, digestion of protein and carbohydrates, brain development and function, muscle contraction and expansion, and nerve conduction. In a low or no salt diet, all these systems suffer, posing a greater risk for health problems in the future. In fact, it’s the salt we consume that helps us retain the proper balance of water in our bodies because most of us don’t drink enough high quality water anyway.
Making Better Choices
The key with salt is finding the right balance, not too much and definitely, not too little. It seems 4g-5g is the right amount per day, although healthy people can certainly consume more. It’s always a good idea to get a nutritional panel from your doctor to see where your deficiencies lie. Increasing foods in your diet that contain higher levels of minerals that help balance sodium, especially potassium, can go a long way toward improving your overall health. Of course, choosing the right kind of salt is essential, but how can you tell when a salt is worth its salt?
Naturally, it goes without saying that you should stop consuming all commercially produced table salt immediately for its denatured state, additives, and heavy metals. “Where will I get my iodine?” you ask. Wild caught fish is a good source, as well as seaweed products. Dried kelp flakes are available that can easily be shaken onto salads and other foods for a healthy daily dose of iodine.
As part of a whole food diet, consuming whole salt just makes sense—that’s salt with all its original trace minerals intact that hasn’t been exposed to caustic processing methods and no harmful additives. The trick is knowing how to choose the right kind of salt because all “sea salts” aren’t created equal.
In fact, there are no nutritional or legal standards for what can be labeled “sea salt”, in much the same way the term “all natural” holds no standards and is entirely meaningless on food packaging when it comes to the content or quality of the food. The reason for this lack of standards in salt labeling is because all salt does originate in the sea. So, technically speaking, all salt is sea salt, however, the most important issue is what happens to that salt after it leaves the ocean and whether or not it retains its natural state once it hits the store shelf.
Lots of salt products will claim to be sea salt when they aren’t. The first tipoff is the color. If it looks snow white, you’ll know it’s been bleached and processed. True sea salt is full of minerals, which are very colorful.
Some sea salts are gray, red, brown, black, and pink. The second clue is the texture. Move the jar or bag of salt around in your hand. If the salt moves freely inside the container without clumping, it’s most likely been treated with flow agents. True sea salt naturally forms clumps inside the container that can be broken up by shaking them apart. Although some sea salts are finely ground, most are coarse or contain slightly larger granules than table salt. A salt that is too fine can be a give-away, as well. Don’t be fooled by titles such as Mediterranean Sea Salt and the like. Always do a color and texture test.
Some great choices include Himalayan Sea Sat and Redmond Real Salt. Both are pink varieties, sourced from ancient sea beds that have since dried up. Celtic Sea Salt is a gray variety and sourced from the present day oceans. Hawaiian Black Lava and Hawaiian Alaea Salt are black and brown, and originate from Hawaii. By understanding salt better, you’ll be able to make the right choice for you and your family and start enjoying the ability of sea salt to enhance food flavor and your health.
For more health insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit beingclarity.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter or check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN here. For daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram at @drhabibsadeghi.