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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You need some salt every day. This key mineral helps your body balance fluids. But so often, you end up getting far more than the recommended amount. We tapped registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, for the scoop about which salt is best.
Eating too much salt draws extra fluid into blood vessels. This raises your blood pressure, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. Eating too much salt can also leave you feeling heavy and bloated.
The appeal of alternatives
It’s no secret that too much salt is bad for you. 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, 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.
So which is better?
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, the culprit behind 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. Now, the rising popularity of sea salt, kosher salt and colored salt has some experts worried that goiter will reappear.
How much is too much salt?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Yet we should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium or one teaspoon per day.
Because 75% of the excess sodium in American diets comes from prepared and processed foods, the FDA has asked 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, bag or can 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 and ask for low sodium menu options.
- Always read labels. Pay special attention to soups and processed meats like deli meats, hot dogs, sausage and ham. They’re packed with sodium.
- Buy salt-free snacks. Choose low sodium or salt free varieties of crackers, nuts or snack foods to munch on. Consider naturally salt free whole foods such as yogurt, fresh fruit or vegetables.
- Flavor foods with herbs spices, fresh garlic or onion. Hold the salt. Herbs won’t raise blood pressure, and many have anti-inflammatory benefits.