Salt has a rich history in our society. Originating in living oceans or from dried up sea beds, salt is an essential nutrient for humans and throughout time people have searched high and low to find it. Salt was widely traded with salt routes criss-crossing the Earth. Salt was oftentimes traded ounce for ounce with gold; salt was literally worth its weight in gold. Roman soldiers were paid in salt (leading to the word ‘salary'). Salt was highly prized and valued in our earliest societies. Today, however, not all salt is created equal.
There are many salts in nature because a salt is essentially a molecule in which a negatively charged atom is bonded to a positively charged atom. We get many of our minerals in the form of salts (magnesium chloride, calcium phosphate, zinc sulfate, etc). When we speak of salt in regards to food, however, we are generally thinking of sodium chloride (NaCl from high school science classes), 2 of the 7 macro minerals needed by the human body.
True sea salt, however, is so much more than just sodium chloride. Many sea salts provide many other minerals (the other 5 macro minerals as well as providing up to 80+ trace minerals) that naturally occur in the sea where the salt is mined. Dr. Mercola has written that regular table salt approximately 98% sodium chloride, whereas natural sea salt is approximately 84% sodium chloride. The additional 16% being these naturally occurring minerals.
Many people do not realize this, but in order to get the lovely white salt we are all used to seeing in our salt shakers, natural salt is heavily processed (very much like our processed sugar, flour and oils). Salt is chemcially cleaned, stripping away naturally occurring minerals, heated to temperatures over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes it is even bleached. Most companies then add iodine back to the salt (iodized salt) and sometimes anti-caking agents, baking soda, aluminum compounds, even sugar (dextrose)! Another reason it is important to read ingredient labels!
As controversial as salt in the diet can be, salt is very important, even essential, for human beings. We need salt for many bodily systems to function properly. According to Dr. Mercola salt is very important for:
- “Being a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular fluid, and even amniotic fluid
- Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells
- Helping the lining of your blood vessels to regulate blood pressure
- Helping you regulate propagation of nerve impulses
- Helping your brain send communication signals to your muscles, so that you can move on demand (sodium-potassium ion exchange)”
Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, talks about the need for salt in increasing weak adrenal function, for proper functioning of the brain and nervous system and for the activation of amylases which are important for the digestion of carbohydrates.
Now, of course, people can have too much salt in their diet. (They can also have too little salt in the diet, a problem called hyponatremia.) Much of the salt people are consuming comes in the form of heavily processed, nutritionally dead foods, (frozen meals, pizzas, chips, cracker, etc). In addition to too much salt, I think these foods are doing nothing to help you obtain the nutrients you need for your body to work effectively.
I think a real food lifestyle calls for real sea salt. When we changed our diet to include mostly all whole, real foods, I found ourselves not eating as much salt as before, because we were limiting those incredibly salty, processed foods and eating more whole foods which we could salt ourselves, to our tastes. Many people also claim that sea salt tastes ‘saltier' leading them to not use as much as they would regular table salt. I would agree! I definitely do not feel I need as much salt on my food when I am using the real deal.
Personally, I choose to use a variety of sea salts on my foods at home. I have long since ditched the heavily processed table salt that used to grace my table as I like my food choices to be as nutrient dense as possible. Some people claim that the differences between table and sea salt are negligible but if I can get some additional minerals in my diet via such a simple choice as sea salt, I am all about it! I also am trying to limit heavily processed foods in my household, so table salt does not fit in. There are so many different sea salts out there for you to choose. There are all different price points, and buying in bulk can make it more economical. Here is a list of some good sea salts;
- Celtic Salt
- Pink Himalayan salt
- Black Sea Salt (has carbon, which is great for detox)
- Smoked Sea Salts (great substitute for Liquid Smoke in recipes)
- Satin Salt Flakes (dissolve very easily)
- Flavor Infused Sea salts (just recently bought Truffle sea salt...pure deliciousness!)
For years I have been using Celtic salt for my family and have loved it. I just recently was turned on to the idea of mixing up my sea salts so I could get a variety of minerals from different sea beds. I have since added Himalayan salt to my kitchen, and just mixed it in with my Celtic salt. I have a variety of flavored and specialty sea salts for occasional use. I use a salt cellar for salt by my stove area and a small dish with salt at my dining table. This system works great for us and I love being able to salt my own whole foods to my liking. And, I feel good knowing that my family is getting trace minerals that we need in our diet.
**side note: Many people are concerned about ditching iodized table salt for fear of not getting enough iodine in the diet. Iodine is an essential nutrient and a lack of iodine can cause health problems. Some sea salts do contain traces of iodine, since they contain traces of marine life that provide the iodine. Sally Fallon says that Celtic Salt can be a good source of iodine. I also choose to get additional iodine from sea vegetables, the trace iodine in sea salt, seafood, potatoes and cow's milk/yogurt (source and source), as well as pineapple, artichokes, asparagus and dark green vegetables (source).
What about you? Do you use sea salt? Which kind is your favorite?