The average American consumes 7 pounds of salt a year, nearly double what the government recommends – a recipe for high blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
If you are like most Americans, odds are you add salt to your food. Maybe you add a little dash here, a little dash there to make the flavor of your food pop or even salt your food simply out of habit. Salt is used all over the world to add zest to meals and is one hot economic commodity everywhere from India to the United States. However, is salt as safe as it is popular? Just because something is widely used doesn’t mean it is a good idea to consume. And are certain types of salt superior to other types? Given how many of us use salt every day, this is important information to be aware of. For the sake of our heart health, I’ve taken the initiative to research everything salt and uncover the truth about this tiny culinary hot cake. If there is a lesson we can all take to heart (literally), it’s that just because something is widely consumed doesn’t mean it is good for us or a good idea to ingest it. Whether you are a saltaholic or not, read on to learn about why you may want to eternally banish the saltshaker from the table.
Salt marketed as table salt (aka sodium chloride) is either mined from the ground or harvested from the sea. Whether it is retrieved from the ocean, sea, marsh or mine, it is refined and finely ground from halite or rock salt. Commercial table salt often contains additives and anti-clumping agents to keep it from clumping. Sea salt is distilled from the waters of the sea and can be fine or coarsely ground. Celtic sea salt is harvested by solar evaporation of water taken from the Celtic sea. It’s quite a pretty penny to buy Celtic salt, but not valued as much as other exotic sea salts, such as fleur de sel salt, which is purported to form only when the wind blows from the east over the salt marshes in Guerande, France. There are plenty of other types of exotic sea salts with alluring names like Peruvian Pink Salt, Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt, Himalania Pink Salt, Gourmet Bamboo Roasted Sea Salt and Kala Namak Black Salt. Companies take advantage of our love affair with the exotic. One website markets Himalayan Salt Cups containing, “Himalayan salts with a high quantity of essential minerals which will transfer into your margaritas, olives, condiments or anything you choose to serve in them.” Doesn’t that sound just marvelous?! If only we could eat up every positive claim we read about salts and it were as true as the sea is blue!
Healthful claims about Celtic sea salts and their more exotic, pricy cousins abound. In our frequently nutritionally confused culture, packaged goods in the health food section of grocery stores are frequently labeled with proud declarations that they contain “healthier” versions of salt in their products. These claims aren’t limited to the labels of packaged foods; websites boast about the salubrious properties of Celtic salts and other exotic salts too. One website claims, “Celtic Sea Salts are a prime condiment that stimulates salivation, helps to balance and replenishes all of the body’s electrolytes.” Another reports, “The natural iodine in these salts protects against radiation, atomic fallout and many other pollutants.” Wow, sounds that sounds fantastic. Who wouldn’t want extra protection against radiation or atomic fallout, whatever that means. Unfortunately claims are as easy to make, yet there is zero scientific evidence that Celtic sea salt is something we should add to our food. In reality, all of the evidence points towards the negative health consequences of sea salt and every other type of salt. All salt is just salt.
Websites claiming that sea salt is a superior alternative to table salt almost always rave that sea salt contains an abundance of trace minerals lacking in table salt, such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. However, when we examine the reality, it becomes clear that sea salt contains a miniscule quantity of trace minerals. Even alleged “mineral rich” salts are 98% sodium chloride.
In addition to the paltry supply of minerals in even the most mineral rich salts, a half teaspoon of salt contains 1200 mg of sodium. To put this in perspective, in order to maintain optimal blood pressure for long-term health, we should keep daily sodium intake below 1000 mg per day. Our Stone Age ancestors consumed between 500-750 mg of sodium each day, levels on par with intake recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Hence, the result of consuming just a tiny bit of salt will result in dangerous amounts of sodium in our bloodstreams and an insignificant quantity of minerals. Our best sources of minerals are plant foods, especially vegetables.
Given how much research supports the dangers of consuming salt, it’s crazy that there are so many companies, alternative health authorities and health organizations promoting “mineral rich” salts. Special salts raise blood pressure like every other form of NaCl. The amount of unsubstantiated health claims regarding special salts are incredible and it really is true that people can say anything and other people will believe it.
Think we need to add salt to our diets for optimal health? Think again. For the 100,000 or so generations that humans have been thriving on the planet, salt wasn’t added to food. The processed food era didn’t begin until after World War I, two to three generations ago. Our ancestors had a very low salt intake and actually had to tolerate periods of starvation and minimal calories. Our genes are programmed to conserve sodium and other nutrients rather than get rid of them with ease. In primitive societies that have been studied, such as tribes in New Guinea and the highlands of Malaysia, very little salt is consumed. Guess what? The peoples of these regions never have hypertension and blood pressure doesn’t rise with age like it does among the American population.
Long story short, all types of salt raise disease risk. High blood pressure causes roughly two-thirds of all strokes and nearly half of all heart attacks. According to the National Institute of Health, consuming less sodium is the most effective tool we have to prevent cardiovascular disease.[i] Salt is simply a killer and just like other known causes of disease, such as cigarette smoking and saturated fat consumption, we should actively attempt to avoid salt, even if it comes with the label, “Fleur de Sel de Guerande”. Our good health depends upon it.
[i] National High Blood Pressure Education Program, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. “National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group report on primary prevention of hypertension.” Arch Intern Med 1993;153:186-208.