Some diet myths simply won’t go away.
Almost weekly, I get emails from family, friends and patients that go something like this: “My friend sent me an email about something that she saw on the Internet that says that (blank) is bad for you.” Or “I should have (blank) every day — but only in the morning.”
The statement is always followed up with the inevitable question: “Is it true?”
I’ll be answering that question for the six myths I see most frequently — with a healthy dose of mythbusting! Up first…
Myth 1: Sea salt is better than regular table salt
Although we do need some salt daily for normal health, we end up getting far more than the recommended amount. This excess can have devastating consequences to overall health, as indicated in several studies. For example, a 2011 study in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that reducing salt intake could potentially save millions of lives globally by substantially reducing levels of heart disease and stroke.
Many people are well aware that salt is not good for them, and they turn to sea salt as what they perceive as the healthier option. Manufacturers sprinkle it on chips and pretzels and throw a “natural” claim on the label. We’re spending lots of money getting various colors of sea salt. Chefs tout it as one of the best ways to “salt” your foods.
We’re eating it all up — literally. But what makes it better than regular table salt?
The short answer is: not much. Table salt is obtained through mining of salt deposits, whereas sea salt is obtained through evaporation of sea water. But guess what — they both contain about the same amount of sodium chloride, the culprit that’s being blamed for so many heart attacks and strokes! While sea salt may make a better culinary product and may provide more mineral content because it is not as processed, it won’t help you in your overall goal to reduce sodium intake.
It’s also important to note that sea salt lacks adequate amounts of iodine, a nutrient necessary for general health and especially thyroid health. In 1924, iodine was added to table salt in the hopes of reducing goiter, a swelling of the thyroid gland. After the 1920s, goiter was reduced significantly in the U.S. population because of this fortification. Because of the increased popularity of sea salt consumption, some experts believe that goiter may rear its ugly head yet again.
If you need to cut down your sodium intake — and most of us do — don’t kid yourself thinking that sea salt will be the answer! Aim for no more than 2300 milligrams per day. If you’re really ambitious, keep it below 1500 milligrams per day.
Tips to reduce your salt consumption
- Avoid processed foods. Over 70 percent of salt consumption is derived from processed foods. That means if it’s marketed as “quick and easy,” or it comes in a box, it may be loaded with sodium.
- When dining out, ask that your foods be prepared without added salts.
- Always read labels, but pay special attention to soups, as well as processed meats such as deli meat, hot dogs and ham.
- Choose crackers, nuts and other snack foods with no added salts.
- Cook with herbs, which are salt free and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.