Stocking Your Real Food Kitchen: Salt

Of all the healthy changes to make, I think this one probably ranks fairly high up for being one of the very easiest changes to make...yay for easy! Here's what you do: throw out your table/sea salt (if it's white, it's refined and bleached) and buy some unrefined salt. Simple? I think so.

Did you know that salt is actually good for you? It has gotten quite the bad rap over the past several years because it has been linked to hypertension and other diseases. However, a 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine reported that "sodium intake of less than 2300 mg (the daily recommended allowance) was associated with a 37% increase in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 28% increase of all-cause mortality."

Salt is important for a number of reasons. Too much or too little in the diet can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, or electrolyte disturbance. It also is important for keeping the body hydrated - for example, drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication. There is controversy on if salt is good for you, and if so, how much. My approach is this: use an unrefined salt, that is full of God-given nutrients. Use it in moderation without worry. Would I use table salt liberally? No, because it is refined and has additives. Many studies show that there are adverse affects from too much salt intake...but I am also willing to bet that those studies were done on people who consumed table salt, and not unrefined sea salt. So once again, use an unrefined salt and use it in moderation, as with all things. I don't think you can go too wrong when using something in the way that God created it (but that is just my opinion). 

The most common type of salt that we are all familiar with is table salt. That very fine, white stuff...recognize it? Table salt is sodium and chloride that is usually mined from rock salt or seawater. The other naturally occurring minerals are stripped from it. It has fillers added in to help with the bitter taste that is left after being refined. Dextrose (corn sugar) is one of the additives. Anti-caking agents are also added to make it free flowing. It is also sprayed with synthetic iodine in order to compensate for the minerals that were removed in the refining process. Salt's purpose is to help us retain water, yet the anti-caking agents prevent that.

The next salt we may be more familiar with is sea salt. This is marketed at a higher price than table salt and said to be a health food. But, since all sodium chloride ultimately comes from the sea, every salt (even table salt) is sea salt. This white sea salt is refined in a similar way to table salt and most of the minerals are removed in the process. It is in essence no healthier than regular table salt and simply more expensive.

Now, this is where the learning comes in...did you know that salt is not actually white? I have to say, up until about 2 years ago, I had no idea! When I first saw real salt, I thought it was some kind of cinnamon sugar because it was reddish brown. Who knew!?

The ideal salt to consume is unrefined sea salt. This salt has 84 different minerals in it, as opposed to the two that are in refined salt. Unrefined salt is colorful. It could have shades of pink, brown, or grey. Some of the most common brands of unrefined salt are Real Salt, Himalayan Salt, and Celtic Sea Salt.

I prefer to use Real Salt because it is easy to find for me. It is also already finely ground, so I don't have to grind it with each use (that makes it really quick for baking and cooking). It has a wonderful flavor. I also like Real Salt because it is "local" meaning it is from the United States; Utah to be precise. Like I mentioned, it's also easy to find and it is granulated. 

The only "drawback" to using unrefined salts is that they do not contain high levels of iodine. However, I do not see this as a problem. First, the iodine that is found in refined salt is a synthetic form of iodine. It is estimated that only about 10% of that is bio-availble, meaning that your body can actually use it. I believe that the real version is always preferable to anything made in a laboratory. Iodine from real food is close to 100% bioavailable, so it is clearly the better choice. Iodine is not hard to get in a whole foods diet - it is found in eggs, seaweed, yogurt, strawberries, and mozarella cheese. I would think that if your diet is well balanced and consists of whole foods, your iodine intake is probably adequate. Unrefined sea salt does contain iodine, but does not meet the daily recommended allowance. Here is a great read about Iodine and Real Salt for more information.

Why was iodine added to salt in the first place? Because a lot of people were having problems due to iodine deficiencies and salt was a good place to "supplement." I think that it would be much wiser to throw out the bleached, refined table salt that has synthetic iodine added in and use an unrefined salt, making sure to eat a balanced diet of whole foods. If you do find that you have an iodine deficiency, you could supplement with a whole foods supplement which would be much more bio-available to your body.

So there you go...did you learn anything about salt? Moving to a diet of whole foods is all about baby steps...I think this is a very simple baby step to take. Will you take it?