There are three basic types of salt most of us can buy – standard table salt, sea salt and rock salt –and within these three categories there are numerous variations in terms of source and chemical make-up.
Salt is a crystalline mineral that’s made from sodium and chlorine (NaCl). These two elements are essential for life. We cannot live without them because they contribute to numerous critical biological processes, including:
Regulating the amount of water that’s in and around your cells
Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells
Helping the brain function
Helping the nerves send out electrical impulses
Aiding digestion and metabolism
Supporting adrenal function
Maintaining and regulating blood pressure
You may be wondering, if the elements that make up salt are so important for our health then why does salt have such a bad reputation?
What a lot of people don’t realize is there’s a huge difference between natural salt and the refined stuff we usually eat.
Unrefined Salts vs Refined Table Salt
It may be helpful to think of salt in the same way you think of sugar.
Refined sugar contains none of the trace elements (very low levels of both essential and non-essential minerals) and cofactors necessary for health that unrefined sugar does. These trace elements and cofactors are useful in helping the body metabolize sugar better. Without them sugar is just calories.
Salt is much the same way. Unrefined salts, whether mined from the earth or harvested from the sea, contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, often in the same balance as are found in human blood. Refined, industrial grade table salt, on the other hand, has had all of these trace elements removed. It is pure sodium chloride, with an anti-caking agent and, in some cases, iodine added in. For the most part, the various grades of salt are all the same; chemically most are greater than 99% sodium chloride, but the structure varies widely.
Sea Salt vs Rock Salt
Salt is everywhere on earth, in the air, soil and water.
Some salt is on the surface of the earth, the dried-up residue of ancient seas like the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Ancient sea beds can also be found underground where salt can be mined or occurs naturally in mineral deposits, where it is known as rock salt. And we can make salt from seawater or other salt water sources through evaporation. This is the way salt is produced in New Zealand because we have no salt deposits.
A documentary on TV recently (Discovery Channel) showed the locations of the largest underground salt mines in the world which have enough rock salt to supply man’s needs for the next so many centuries. Their origin comes from seas have dried up millions of years ago and are now covered with rock and soil. These areas are known today as subterranean or underground salt mines. These mines contain rock salt; not sea salt. There is a difference but they are both 99% sodium chloride.
Rock salt occurs in crystalline form and is basically gray in color. Although, there are rock salts available in other colors as well, depending upon the type & amount of impurities present in them. Sea salt, on the other hand, is created from sea water. It is white in color and much better in quality when compared to rock salt.
Sea salt, which is created by evaporating sea water, is a healthier option, as compared to rock salt, since it contains iron, sulfur, magnesium and many other minerals as well. Although, the content of iodine in sea salt is very low, yet it has iodine in the most natural form. Rock salt, which has no iodine, is iodized industrially, often bleached and mixed with anti-caking agents. This is what is used to make table salt and then used in food production.
There are claims that Himalayan Pink salt is healthier because it contains more minerals than the regular unrefined salts. But, there are a huge number of nutritionists that disagree with these claims. One of them is Rene Ficek, a nutrition specialist who works at Healthy Eating. This expert believes that Himalayan salt is trendy, but that the health benefits associated with it are exaggerated.
Although Himalayan salt contains key minerals like phosphorus, bromine, boron, and zinc, among others, Ficek says that the quantity of all the minerals found in pink salt is so very low and they can’t make any significant difference in consumer’s health. Like all other unrefined salts, Himalayan Pink salt is 99% sodium chloride!
Why do we crave salt if it's bad for us?
First, a craving for salt (which decreases when consuming unrefined salts) often camouflage a need for other minerals than sodium chloride, the main mineral in salt. Other minerals and trace represent a minute percentage in the composition of salt. Therefore we need to get these other minerals from a different source in our diet. That is why a diet rich in vegetation is so important, they are the main source of minerals for our body.
The vegetation from the sea (seaweed) in particular is a very concentred source of minerals, up to 20 times the amount found in land vegetables for the same weight. So a little seaweed everyday goes a long way...
We've been told that : “Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.” the origin for this claim dates back to the 1940s, when a Duke University researcher named Walter Kempner, M.D., became famous for using salt restriction to treat people with high blood pressure. Later, studies confirmed that reducing salt could help reduce hypertension.
Not as simple as it sounds. Unrefined salts contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, but in minute quantities. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolize the sodium better. The more sodium you eat, the more potassium and magnesium you need to maintain balance, which can't be maintained exclusively by what's in the salt.
Few of us get enough of these important trace elements in our diets, yet we eat high amounts of sodium in salt. Dutch researchers have determined that a low potassium intake has the same impact on your blood pressure as high salt consumption does. Surveys show that the average consumption of potassium & magnesium is generally inadequate in most people's diet. Striving for a diet rich in magnesium & potassium will help balance salt intake.
Salt vs Sugar, both bad?
Added sugars in processed foods are likely to have a greater role in high blood pressure and heart disease and stroke, than added salt, say doctors in an analysis of the published evidence in the online journal Open Heart.
Dietary approaches to lower high blood pressure have historically focused on cutting salt intake. But the potential benefits of this approach “are debatable,” say the authors.
This is because the average reductions in blood pressure achieved by restricting salt intake have proven to be relatively small, and there is some evidence to suggest that 3-6 g salt daily may be optimal for health, and that intake below 3 g may actually be harmful.
The type of salt consumed is also important (as explained above): unrefined salts contain other minerals (cofactors) that support the body's ability to metabolize salt. Most salt in the diet comes from processed foods. In addition to using mostly refined salt, these foods also happen to be a rich source of added sugars.
“Compelling evidence from basic science, population studies, and clinical trials implicates sugars, and particularly the monosaccharide fructose, as playing a major role in the development of hypertension [high blood pressure],” scientist from Open Heart write. Around 300 years ago, people only consumed a few pounds of sugar a year, whereas current estimates suggest that average consumption in the US is 77-152 pounds a year—equivalent to 24-47 teaspoons a day. A high fructose diet has also been linked to an unfavourable blood fat profile, higher fasting blood insulin levels, and a doubling in the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.