For years, salt has been labelled the enemy. We’ve been told to avoid it. Reduce our intake or be faced with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or worse, premature death. It turns out that salt isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Recently, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The CBC, and Harvard Health all published pieces that point to evidence showing that the long-standing worry about high salt intake may be unfounded.
Don’t skip the salt
Salt is sodium chloride. Sodium, found in salt and some foods, is an essential nutrient. Our bodies need it to function well and without it we would die. It also preserves food and adds flavour. But, there is a debate within the scientific community over just how much salt we should be ingesting. On the one side, there are those that say we should drastically limit our daily sodium intake. On the other side, it’s said that we shouldn’t be worried at all about the amount of sodium we ingest, so long as we’re not going way overboard.
Naturally occuring salt is an important mineral for our bodies. It:
- Balances fluids
- Helps with muscle and nerve function
- Allows muscle fibres to contract and relax
- Aids in digestion
- Is important in the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of waste
North Americans eat about 3400 mg of sodium a day, more than double the amount recommended by Health Canada and the CDC. 1500 mg of sodium a day is a good benchmark for most adults. 2300 mg–around a teaspoon of table salt– is the upper tolerable limit. Anything over that and you’re at risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. Most of the sodium we consume comes from processed and packaged foods. If you eat a lot of these types of foods, chances are you’re well over the suggested limit.
Some people are more sensitive to salt than others. Their blood pressure rises and falls as a direct result of their salt intake. There are also other health issues that may require a person to limit their salt intake. For most, salt is fine to eat and will likely not have any negative health impact. What the studies have shown is that eating less salt will have a moderate effect on lowering blood pressure. What cannot be concluded is that this slight reduction in blood pressure has any effect on lowering the risks of heart disease and stroke. In fact, recent studies are beginning to show that eating less salt may do more harm than good. One thing the articles mentioned above show for sure, is that the anti-salt campaign should be taken with (sorry, we just have to say it) a grain of salt.
What type of salt should you eat?
When choosing salt, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference what type you go for. Nutritionally, they are all pretty comparable by weight. Though, there are slight differences in processing, where the salt comes from, and mineral content. For some, this information may be reason to choose one over the other. No matter the type, all salt is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Those with less sodium, have a higher mineral content. However, no matter how high the mineral content of a particular salt type is, it isn’t enough to consider it a significant source of those minerals. Here’s the breakdown on some common types of salt:
Table salt is mined from underground sources. It goes through extensive processing, which strips away any minerals that may be present. Table salt often has iodine added to it, which is a nutrient that helps regulate thyroid levels. Some table salts also contain anti-caking additives to prevent clumping. And, since some of these additives dull the color of table salt, it may also be bleached.
Sea salt comes from the evaporation of ocean water or saltwater lakes. Because there is very little processing, there are usually trace minerals left behind which can add slight flavouring to taste. Sea salt comes in a variety of coarseness and can be refined or unrefined. Some refined sea salt contains additives. At Spread‘Em, we use unrefined sea salt in all our products.
Himalayan pink salt contains small amounts of the 84 essential minerals and trace elements that our bodies require for healthy functioning. It comes from ancient salt beds in the Himalayan Mountain range in Pakistan and contains iron oxide, which gives it its pink hue. Due to the extra minerals, the sodium content is slightly lower than table or sea salt, but not by much. Pink salt is usually more expensive than sea salt, and there is debate over whether the added cost is really worth it.
Kosher salt is a quick dissolving, flaky, coarse-grained salt. It does not contain iodine and rarely contains anti-caking agents. Despite its name, not all kosher salt is certified kosher. It is used in the koshering process though. It’s also a good salt for fermenting foods.
Celtic salt, also known as grey salt, is harvested in tidal ponds off the coast of France. It has the lowest sodium content and the highest content of calcium, magnesium and iron. The large coarse grains have a higher moisture content than other salts and it has a somewhat brinier taste.
The idea that salt is something to reach for is one that goes against what we’ve been told for decades by many health institutions. Emerging science shows that salt may actually be good for us and that limiting our intake could have a negative impact to our health. What are your thoughts on salt? Do you embrace salt in your cooking or are you conscious in limiting the amount you consume? Let us know in the comments below.