You probably see lots of “low-sodium” and “low-salt” food and diets in the market. And this focus on low-salt might make you think that there’s something inherently wrong with salt and that it’s bad for you. But the truth is, it’s not that simple.
For one thing, there are several different types of salt. And for another thing, most foods are okay in moderation. It’s no different with salt. So, keep reading to learn all the basics about salt for a healthy, balanced diet.
Salt throughout history
Salt has been an important element in different civilizations for thousands of years – all the way back to 6000 BC, according to some historians. At one point, salt was so valuable that it was used as a form of currency. This is where the word “salary” comes from.
Salt was important for ancient Roman, Greek, and Chinese civilizations. And as empires expanded, and explorers discovered new lands, salt traveled and continued to be an all-important element throughout the world.
Salt has been used as an effective and natural way to preserve foods, and that includes everything from meats, fish, and vegetables.
Did you know that there’s an area on your tongue designed specifically to taste salt? And that’s a very fortunate thing. Without salt, food tastes bland and doesn’t have that boost of flavor that we like so much.
But what is this simple white substance?
What is salt?
Salt is a combination of two different minerals: sodium and chloride. Salt is made up of about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. And believe it or not, these two compounds are necessary for your body.
As you may already notice, salt and sodium are not the same things. Therefore, even though they’re used interchangeably, they’re two different things. Sodium is a mineral, and one of two minerals that make up salt.
Sodium supports muscle contractions, and without enough sodium, it can lead to cramping. So, for example, if too much sodium is excreted through bodily fluids like sweat, your muscles might start to cramp out.
The human body needs both of the minerals in salt: sodium and chloride.
Sodium is the most abundant electrolyte found in the blood, and in second place comes chloride. Electrolytes are present in bodily fluid and they help to transport electrical charges throughout the body.
Electrolytes are necessary for nerve function as well as for balancing your body’s fluids. Without enough chloride, these processes are disrupted.
Therefore, the human body needs both of the minerals in salt: sodium and chloride. So, why is salt considered a bad thing?
How dietary salt affects the body
The human body needs the two minerals within salt, but can too much dietary salt be a bad thing? Let’s explore different health areas and whether or high salt consumption poses a threat.
Salt and cardiovascular health
You might be familiar with health claims stating that high amounts of salt can raise blood pressure, however research has found that restricting salt intake doesn’t lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure.
Other studies have explored the relationship between salt intake and heart attacks and strokes, and they found little evidence that restricting salt consumption reduces the risk for these cardiovascular diseases.
Therefore, even though sodium frequently gets a bad rap for its negative impact on heart health, studies show that salt may not be as dangerous as people once thought.
Salt and stomach health
Salt may cause problems when it comes to the stomach, however. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that “salt intake is an important dietary risk for gastric cancer.”
Another large study observed over 250,000 individuals and among those who had high salt intake, the risk for stomach cancer increased by 68 percent.
While scientists are still trying to understand how salt can increase gastric cancer risks, two plausible explanations exist. One possible cause is that a high-salt diet can help unhealthy bacteria to grow, leading to inflammation and ulcers. This inflammation can damage the lining of the stomach.
Therefore, even though salt may not be very detrimental to heart health, research reveals that salt can be pretty damaging to the digestive system.
Low salt intake is associated with health problems
Even though we usually hear that high salt diets can be bad for us, the opposite is actually true. In fact, if your diet is too low in sodium, it can lead to negative health effects. Here are some of them:
- Higher blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can put you at higher risk for heart disease.
- Insulin resistance is another health concern for people who don’t consume enough salt. Insulin transports sugar from the bloodstream to the cells, and without enough salt, insulin doesn’t function efficiently. And this can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, which in turn puts you at a greater risk for diabetes.
- Hyponatremia is a condition linked to low-salt consumption. Without enough sodium in the bloodstream, the body retains water, and hyponatremia symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea.
As you can see, not consuming enough salt can increase your risk for certain health issues. So, it’s important to find the right balance for you and your body.
It’s also important to remember that everyone reacts to salt in his or her own way. For some people, consuming a lot of salt doesn’t seem to interfere with their health and wellness. Others may be sensitive to salt.
It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor to decide the optimal salt intake for your own individual health.
How much salt do experts recommend?
The World Health Organization recommends 2,300 mg or less of sodium per day for adults. That comes to roughly one teaspoon. So, it’s easy to see how adults consume far more than that each day.
In fact, in a study that observed over 12,000 American adults, researchers found that 90 percent of participants consumed too much salt on a daily basis.
How do people consume so much salt? The truth is, it’s hidden in many foods.
Hidden sources of salt and sodium
Most of the salt that Americans consume – a whopping 75 percent of it – is found in processed foods. And that’s not surprising when you think of crackers, soups, meats, etc. But it may come as a surprise that salt is hidden in things like breakfast cereals and bread.
To give you an idea of all the places where salt is hidden in processed foods, here’s a brief list of common offenders:
- Breakfast cereals
- Bread, bagels, pancake mixes and muffins
- Condiments, sauces, and dressings
- Classico Pasta Sauce
- Slim Jim Original Beef Jerky
- Processed cheese slices
- Canned and pickled food
- Breaded chicken and breaded fish products
- Morning Star Farms Chipotle Black Bean Burger
- Ready-made pizza and pasta dishes
- Packaged rice mixes
- Frozen meals
- Ramen noodles
- Processed meat and deli meat
Two different salt varieties
Up until now, we’ve been talking about salt, and how it can negatively and positively impact the body. We’ve also discussed hidden sources of salt. However, it’s important to remember that the salt we’ve been talking about so far is processed, table salt. But this is only one kind of salt and the worst kind there is.
Now, let’s discuss the more natural, nutrient-dense forms of salt that are very good for the human body.
What’s the difference between table salt and sea salt?
There are two common salt varieties: sea salts, including Himalayan pink salt, and table salt. But what’s the difference between these salts?
Table salt still contains it’s two key minerals, sodium and chloride. But it’s a processed food that’s completely stripped of minerals – minerals that the human body needs for many physiological functions.
And instead of the naturally occurring nutrients found in unprocessed salt, sea salt usually contains additives, some of which are known to be toxic substances. These can include ferrocyanide, talc and silica aluminate. Talc is known to be a carcinogen, and aluminum can lead to neurological problems.
Unfortunately, when it comes to table salt, manufacturers remove all the good stuff and replace it with much lower quality, and even toxic substances.
What is sea salt?
Sea salt, as its name implies, comes from the sea. When seawater evaporates, the salt remains. Today, there are two ways for seawater to evaporate. It can either occur in the open air, with the help of sunlight. Or, it can occur in a vacuum evaporation method.
The salt in the sea works to fight pathogens, like bacteria and parasites. So, salt helps to fight toxicity in the sea, and it can fight pathogens in the human body, too.
Want to find the best sea salt for the money? Take a look at these top picks:
The health benefits of sea salt
Good quality sea salt can have up to 60 trace minerals. So, what are some the naturally occurring minerals in sea salt, and how do they help the body?
Here’s a quick roundup of sea salt minerals and their benefits:
- Selenium helps to round up toxic heavy metals and usher them out of the body.
- Boron is a useful mineral to prevent osteoporosis.
- Chromium helps to manage blood sugar levels.
- Electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, work together to prevent both water loss and water retention.
- Sodium helps to carry electrical signals in the body, essential for a healthy brain, muscular and nervous system.
- Chloride is a component necessary for stomach acid, and without enough stomach acid, digestive issues can occur.
What is Himalayan salt?
According to Dr. Axe, Himalayan salt is thought to be the purest form of salt in the world. That’s because it’s believed to contains the remains of the first, primal sea.
Himalayan salt is thought to be the purest form of salt in the world.
This beautiful pink salt contains all 84 trace minerals, exactly the same amount present in the human body.
And with so many amazing and pure minerals present, Himalayan salt offers an impressive range of health benefits.
Here are just some of them:
- Supports healthy lung function by clearing away mucus, removing pathogens and serving as an anti-inflammatory
- Balances the body’s pH levels
- Helps to balance stomach acid and supports the production of liver and pancreas fluids
- Supports restful sleep
Looking for the best Himalayan pink salt? Look no further than here:
How to use salt in a healthier way
As you can see, sea salts are infinitely better for you than processed table salt. Not only do they provide your body with important trace minerals, but they also help to improve the flavor of your meals.
While there are many ways to enjoy sea salt, including respiratory therapy and skin scrubs, you can enjoy sea salt with food.
If it’s difficult to make the switch from processed salt to sea salt, try to incorporate small amounts of sea salt into your diet. And if possible, try to cut back on processed table salt.
Who knew that salt, this humble partner to pepper, had such an intriguing history? What’s more, this little ancient substance packs quite the nutritional punch!