A pinch of knowledge about salt
Salt is “the only product that changes cuisine” Ferran Adria once said. Salt is responsible for more taste in our meals, it is also vital for our body. What should we consider when choosing a type of salt?
What is salt and why do we need it?
Most of us store our salt on the shelf next to pepper, chili and nutmeg. So it makes sense that there are plenty of people who think it's also a type of spice – but it's not. Spices are plant-based. Salt on the other hand is a crystalline mineral made from sodium and chloride (NaCl).
These are the two elements the human body needs as they are responsible for various biological processes, such as carrying nutrients into and out of the cells, or regulating the amount of water that's in and around the cells. Besides that, sodium and chloride also play an important role in our nervous system. If the body has a deficiency of sodium over a longer period of time, symptoms of hyponatremia such as brain swelling, coma and congestive heart failure can occur. (1)
What amount of salt is healthy?
There are different opinions on how much salt we should intake to maintain optimal health. Especially over the last couple of years the upper level has begun to shrink.
The CDC recommends 3,300 mg of sodium as an average intake of sodium a day. In comparison to others, this level is well above the standard. (2) The USDA advises to have an average of 2,300 mg of sodium a day and the American Heart Association even suggests an upper level of 1,500 mg. 1.500 mg of sodium refers to one teaspoon or 3.8 grams of salt and is, according to the Institute of Medicine, the amount we lose daily through sweat and urination. (3, 4)
The question is, why is salt considered to be the enemy, while our body obviously needs it? A lot of people don't know that there is a difference between natural salt and refined, unnecessary salt.
Where do we find unnecessary salts?
As long as we season our meals ourselves, we have the best control on what type of salt and how much salt we are consuming. As soon as we buy processed foods, such as prepared food, packaged cheese or fast food it gets more difficult.
Long-lasting foods such as sausages, and other cured meats, contain a particularly high amount of salt. And even three or four slices of bread can cover two-thirds of your daily salt intake.
I'm not saying that you should count every single mg of salt that you are eating, but it's always good to consider limiting how much processed food we eat to avoid exceeding the maximum daily requirement too often.
What are the different types of salt?
There are three main types of Salt: Refined Salt, Sea Salt and Himalayan Salt. Each of them contain different levels of minerals and can affect your health in different ways. Let's start with the type of salt we should try to limit:
Refined Salt or how it is usually called, Table Salt.
Refined means that food has been processed in a way or another and modified from its original state.
In the case of refined salt, the pure product is dry-heated at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in order to alter the natural chemical structure. During this drying-process manufacturers add anti-caking agents to prevent the end-product to lump. After that, Iodine is added. So all in all table salt is neither pure nor natural. For this reason, it’s a good idea to limit your intake of this type of salt as much as possible.
Already by its texture, sea salt is very different from traditional table salt. The flakes are larger because it's less ground. Sea salt is evaporated sea water and contains trace minerals as potassium, iron and zinc.
The evaporation takes place either by open-air sun solar evaporation or by a quicker vacuum evaporation process. Sea salt contains more trace minerals when it's not heavily processed.
There are types of sea salt that are just as refined as table salt – their main ingredient is "sodium-chloride". Often, commercial producers add health-hazardous additives to the final product, so please read the label carefully when purchasing sea salt. (5)
Personally, I only use Himalayan crystal salt in recipes and to season my food. One reason is that, compared to sea salt, it’s unrefined, less polluted and overall, the most natural option. It is often even called the purest salt on earth. Himalayan salt is also balanced in nutrients containing over 84 minerals and trace elements. Compared to table salt which is typically 97.5 to 99.9% sodium chloride, Himalayan salt with only about 87% sodium chloride has a lower sodium content. Furthermore, it does not contain anti-caking agents. (6)
This "pink gold" has an alkalizing effect on the body and buffering acid levels. It also gives off negative ions and kills bacteria. If you are a very active person and sweat a lot, you will probably need to consume more salt.
What’s better than a freshly-picked, vine-ripened tomato with a sprinkle of Himalayan salt? It’s one of life’s simple enjoyments. They say one of the very best places to use salt is on your fresh raw vegetables, fresh salads. Maybe because of the high potassium levels, it combines and absorbs well together.
The last couple of years, people have been made to fear salt due to the effect it can have on people who have high blood pressure, yet it can be very healing if you consume quality salts in moderation – avoiding processed foods – in combination with a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.