By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
Salt gets such negative buzz. Salt is responsible for the soaring high rates of hypertension, which then causes high rates of other diseases such as heart disease.
WE only need about 2200 milligrams of salt per day, according to most health experts. Those of us with hypertension need even less, only about 1500 milligrams per day.
The trouble is, that it's fairly easy to exceed your daily salt limit, unless you're careful. The association of hypertension with table salt is one of the reasons many people began turning to sea salt as an alternative.
The headline in this pitch for sea salt is "sea salt is less processed and tastes better".
But is it better for you? It's worth questioning if this push for sea salt is a marketing gimmick or has some merit to it. It's good to weigh the pros and cons.
Here's a little sneak peak: Both table salt and sea salt have the same amount of sodium in them. So, if your goal is only to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, either in moderation will do the trick.
Sea salt and table salt also have the same chemical composition of sodium and chloride. Both these elements can be good for you: sodium helps in digesting carbohydrates, and chloride breaks down proteins and has antipathogenic properties.
So, what are the differences? And why all the hype about sea salt?
Processing Is the Difference
Sea salt is made simply by evaporating water from oceans or salinated lakes. Then it's left with trace minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium. The process for table salt is a bit more complex. It is mined from salt deposits underground.
The manufacturers of table salt remove any trace minerals to get a uniformly white color, grind it to make it fine, then add an anti-caking agent such as calcium silicate. While table salt is much more processed, it does have one benefit: the addition of iodine.
Iodine in Table Salt Is Essential to a Healthy Thyroid
This element is useful in the prevention of iodine deficiency and goiters. If you have a thyroid condition, it is also essential protection. A happy thyroid also regulates metabolism, heart rate, and nervous system, amongst other functions.
You need 150 micrograms of iodine a day, and can also get it from seaweed, fish, and yogurt (seaweed is an especially good source).
However, if you don't regularly incorporate any of those things into your diet, table salt could actually be a necessary thing to consume on the daily, especially if you have thyroid issues.
As with everything, though, make sure you're not overdosing. Pamela Peeke, M.D., nutritionist at Elements Behavioral Health, cautions that: "Most table salt also has added iodine, an essential nutrient that helps maintain a healthy thyroid. But adding iodine can be a problem as well."
According to Peeke, excess iodine can lead to unbalanced hormones, headaches, and nausea. So, pay attention to the amount of iodine-rich foods you regularly eat.
Minerals from the Sea Keep You Alive
Of course, those trace minerals that appear in sea salt are also a great added benefit.
They contain many, but a few that are especially beneficial are calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Calcium helps the bones, as well as prevents colon cancer and reduces obesity.
Magnesium does many things, but has been proven to be especially excellent for your heart. According to the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, there's a correlation between high magnesium levels and a lower risk of heart disease, ischemic heart diseases, and sudden cardiac death.
A February 2012 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition speaks about the strong protective powers of magnesium. An analysis of 7 studies including more than 200,000 people found that consuming an extra 100 milligrams of magnesium a day reduced stroke by eight percent.
Potassium (found in one of my favorite foods, bananas), does just about everything: It promotes better brain and muscle function, helps grow strong bones, and increases the metabolism.
It's another one of those situations, where, if your diet is lacking in one or more of these nutrients, a little extra salt can give it a boost.
However, according to the American Heart Association, if you are eating a balanced, healthy diet anyway, the beneficial minerals and nutrients will probably make their way into your diet without salt. It depends on what you're eating.
More Benefits of Sea Salt
Sea salt also contains 80 essential minerals and elements that maintain a balance of electrolytes in your body. Having a balance of electrolytes also means facilitating transmission of information between the brain and nerve cells. This, in turn, improves heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, as well as other functions.
Oddly enough, sea salt can even help prevent dehydration, as counterintuitive as that sounds.
According to Dr. Craig Reese, adding 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt to every half gallon of clean water you drink can help you hold water and prevent dehydration.
Benefits of Salt in General
Although salt gets a bad rap because of hypertension, eliminating it from your diet entirely would be a terrible plan.
Dr. Michael Alderman, a hypertension specialist himself states, “Eliminating all salt from your diet is unhealthy, because minerals contained in it are essential for the proper functioning of nearly all biological processes.”
Dr. Barbara Hendel, researcher and author of Water and Salt, The Essence of Life, affirms that, “The human body would not exist without these salts.”
So, Which Salt Should I Choose?
In general, when you have to pick what to put in your body, the more unprocessed the better. That said, table salt in moderation will not kill you. If you have it in your home, it shouldn't be too much of an issue, because you can measure how much you are adding. However, a lot of unwanted sodium comes from going out to restaurants. It's difficult to be sure just where a bunch of salt will show up; sometimes it even gets into desserts.
It also depends on your diet. If you're a bit malnourished for whatever reason, a little extra salt of either variety could get some of those nutrients or iodine into your system.
If you decide to go for the more natural variety, remember that it won't necessarily look like traditional salt. "Unrefined salt is generally not the pure white color that most of us are used to; it tends to be off-white or pink," says Dr. Peeke. Her personal favorites are rose-colored Himalayan rock salt and grey Atlantic or Celtic salt.
If you haven't tried other varieties of salts, give them a whirl. However, don't feel bad about sticking with small bits of table salt if that's more your teaspoon of sodium.