Salt is one of the most precious natural compounds known to man. Throughout history, people have used salt to trade (as payment), to make bread and to preserve food (cured meat & cheese).
What the ancients may not have realized is just how essential salt (sodium chloride) is for life. It is required for blood, sweat, digestive juices and efficient nerve transmission. In fact a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that populations with the lowest salt intakes also have among the shortest life spans.
The introduction of iodised salt
Since the early part of the 20th century salt producers have been adding iodine to table salt. This private effort alone has protected countless pregnant mothers and children from iodine deficiency diseases, the world’s leading cause of mental retardation.
Iodine deficiency goiter and cretinism (physical & mental retardation) have been all but eliminated in most industrialised countries of the world by fortifying common table salt with iodide. But there is more to the story.
Firstly, the disorders related to iodine deficiency still affects nearly 200 million people across the world mostly in the poorest of countries.
“IDD is the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation. Severe deficiencies cause cretinism, stillbirth and miscarriage. But even mild deficiency can significantly affect the learning ability of populations. Scientific evidence shows alarming effects of IDD. Even a moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers their intelligence by 10 to 15 IQ points, with incalculable damage to social and economic development of nations and communities. Today over 1 billion people in the world suffer from iodine deficiency, and 38 million babies born every year are not protected from brain damage due to IDD. These 38 millions, or nearly 30 percent of the world’s newborns, come from families that are the least educated, most isolated and economically disadvantaged. The mark of a civilized society is how well it takes care of its most vulnerable and deprived communities. If we continue to fail to reach these newborns, we will be consigning them to an inter-generational cycle of poverty and injustice.”
— Kul Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, October 2007
Then, although it has been assumed that with the implementation of iodised salt, iodine deficiency disorders would be a thing of the past, not so. It turns out that iodised salt doesn't fill all of our body's requirements for iodine, so although we have less goiter and cretinism, most of us still suffer from iodine deficiency in more subtle ways.
Widespread iodine deficiency
Some may think that the use of iodised salt has eliminated iodine deficiency; however studies done in the USA show that iodine levels have dropped significantly (50%) in all demographic categories in the US – how is this possible ? The National Health and Nutrition Examination studied data that spanned over the last 30 years.
Read about the US data on iodine levels.
It turns out that poor bio-availability of iodine in salt (Research on bio-availability of iodide in salt in 1969 suggests that iodised salt is only 10% bio-available) and declining salt intake by the population (low salt diets) have set the stage for widespread iodine deficiency. In addition, the compound used to iodise salt, potassium iodide, only partly satisfies the iodine requirements of the body. Different body tissues are able to assimilate iodine in varying forms; consequently, consuming something like seaweed, that contains both iodide & iodine is preferable. Iodised salt makes iodine available to the body in only one form, so is of limited use in filling the body’s requirements.
The purpose of adding iodine to salt is to achieve a ‘Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)’ for iodine. The values framed by the RDA system were decided upon based on the prevention of goiter; however, these values are inadequate in providing enough iodine to the body to promote optimal thyroid, endocrine and immune system functioning. Furthermore, it has been found that the iodine values set forth by the RDA system are inadequate in acting towards the prevention of cancer in the body. Check here to find out the RDA for iodine in NZ: http://www.nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/minerals/iodine.
Another controversy lies in the effects of eating refined salt – even iodised refined salt. Before refined salt hits the shelves, it’s dried in high heat above 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That excessive heat alters the natural chemical structure of the salt. To make matters worse, during the drying process, manufacturers add anti-caking agents so the end product will pour and flow freely. So table salt is not pure. Rather, it’s 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals.
Consuming too much of this type of salt can cause excess fluid in your body tissues and lead to various health issues. Despite table salt having little in common with natural salt, this is the type most people use to flavor their home cooked food and most food manufacturing companies dump into their packaged products. More than 75 percent of sodium in the average diet is said to come from processed foods.
If the salt is refined to remove impurities or give it a better appearance, most of the mineral elements are gone. This compromises the body’s ability to absorb and process the treated salt, leading to joint problems and lower effectiveness of body functions. Already, salt is mostly made up of one mineral - 97%+ Sodium Chloride - so very little of any other important minerals and trace elements.
Salt is essential to life
...and yet, salt is essential to life. Like so many other essential foods (like fat), salt has been demonized in the last decades and yet, salt is vital for the survival of all living creatures. Like fat, salt is often misunderstood. Both are nutrients that are essential to health, but not all forms of them are healthy. Water and salt regulate the water content of the body. There are two oceans of water inside the body – one held inside the cells, and the other outside the cells. Good health depends on a most delicate balance between the volume of these oceans, and this balance is achieved by natural, unrefined salt.
The composition of our blood and the other fluids in our bodies have an amazing similarity to seawater. It is for this reason that natural unrefined Sea Salt is so good for us. Read about Sea Salt's Health Benefits.
Many of us crave salt because our bodies crave the missing elements which are absent from the refined salt. Many of the missing elements are needed only in minute quantities (trace) but their absence is thought to contribute to many of today’s illnesses.
What can you do?
One of the difficulties is that natural sea salt has been found to be too weak in iodine to provide any substantial supplementation to our diet; but iodine is naturally plentiful in sea vegetables/seaweed.
Click on the link to find out why iodine is important.
Pacific Harvest produces ‘Kelp Salt’, which combines the many health benefits of natural sea salt with those of kelp seaweed. Kelp Salt is a natural sea salt using iodine naturally occurring in kelp to produce a ‘naturally iodised natural sea salt’. Its strong mineral taste is satisfying, therefore requiring a smaller amount to get the salty taste.
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 may not include the latest research. We encourage you to do your own research and discuss your findings with a qualified health practitioner who can help you validate the outcomes in the context of your specific & individual health situation.