Pink Himalayan salt is trending on food blogs. Kosher salt is touted by chefs. Sea salt is everywhere. Are natural salts more nutritious than table salt?
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We need some salt every day. This key mineral helps our bodies balance fluids. But we end up getting far more than the recommended amount.
Eating too much salt draws extra fluid into blood vessels. This raises blood pressure and our risks for heart disease and stroke, the world’s two deadliest diseases.
That’s why a 2011 British Medical Journal study demonstrated that substantially reducing salt intake had the potential to save millions of lives.
Eating too much salt can also leave us feeling heavy and bloated.
The appeal of alternatives
Today, many people realize the dangers of salt. So alternatives like sea salt seem tempting. Sea salt is made by evaporating sea water and contains no additives. Manufacturers sprinkle sea salt liberally on chips and pretzels and throw a “natural” claim on the label. And we’re eating it up — literally.
We’re also paying more for kosher salt and unrefined, colored salt. Like table salt, the coarser kosher salt is mined from salt deposits but rarely contains additives.
Salts that are pink, red, blue or gray reflect trace minerals in the salt deposits where they were mined, from the Himalayan mountains to Hawaiian volcanoes.
What it all means
So…are unrefined or less refined salts better than highly refined table salt?
The short answer is: not much.
No matter where it comes from, salt contains the same amount of sodium chloride. That’s right, the culprit being blamed for so many heart attacks and strokes.
Also, table salt may be more refined, but it’s the only salt with adequate amounts of iodine. You need this nutrient for general health and, especially, thyroid health.
Iodine deficiency can lead to goiter (massive swelling of the thyroid gland). Adding iodine to table salt in 1924 stopped the U.S. epidemic of goiter. Its incidence fell significantly. Now, the rising popularity of sea salt, kosher salt and colored salt has some experts worried that goiter will rear its ugly head again.
How much is too much?
Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Yet we should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (it’s even better to stay below 1,500 milligrams a day).
Because 75 percent of the excess sodium in American diets comes from prepared and processed foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking food companies and restaurants to lower their sodium levels over the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, here’s what you can do to lower your sodium intake:
- Avoid processed foods. Anything that comes in a box or that’s labeled “quick and easy” may be loaded with sodium.
- Ask restaurants to hold the salt. When dining out, ask that foods be prepared without adding salt.
- Always read labels. Pay special attention to soups and processed meats like deli meats, hot dogs and ham. They’re packed with sodium.
- Buy salt-free snacks. Munch on crackers, nuts and other snacks that have no added salt.
- Flavor food with herbs. Hold the salt. Herbs won’t raise blood pressure, and many have anti-inflammatory benefits.