Salt has gotten a bad rap over the last decade. But more and more research is showing the importance of sodium in our diet.† It is involved with the regulation of blood pressure and bodily fluids, transmits electrical impulses within the brain and between brain and nervous system cells (hence its inclusion as one of the critical “electrolyte” minerals), helps control heart activity, and even help regulate metabolism.
The average person eats about 3.3 grams of sodium, primarily from table salt, but only needs a fraction of this amount.† The maximum recommended by most health organizations is 2.3 grams; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that African-Americans, people over 51 years of age, and anyone with diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease to ingest less that 1.5 grams daily. Few people actually have sodium deficiencies.
The lion’s share of sodium we eat is table salt found in processed, packaged, and prepared foods we eat.†According to Nutrition Action simply cutting the amount of sodium we eat by 2 grams daily 10,000 lives would be spared from related heart attacks and strokes.
Because sodium and potassium are like the opposite sides of a teeter-totter (when one goes up the other tends to go down and vice versa), it is important to choose the right salt and use it in the right quantities for your body.† When we eat excessive sodium too much water enters our cells creating a higher pressure inside. Simply eliminating most packaged, prepared, and processed food would bring the sodium intake into healthier levels. But that’s not all. We hear about switching from table salt to sea salt. But is it really worth all the hype? Before I answer, let’s consider the diet of our ancestors.
The diet of our pre-agricultural ancestors was rich in saltónot the salt now found on almost every table in small glass shakers, but potassium alkali salts, which are found in abundance in non-grain plant foods. These salts were eaten in their naturally occurring form.
The salt we know today is processed sodium chloride (NaCl) is found in virtually every food choice in the Standard American Diet. Our SAD diet is also dangerously low in potassium alkali salts. The combination of a sodium chloride excess with a potassium deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating more potassium-rich foods like bananas, beans, and leafy greens helps balance sodium in the body.
Table salt is usually mined from deep in the earth and is heavily processed to remove other minerals while sea salt is evaporated sea water and is less processed, and includes other minerals, including many trace minerals needed for good health. While some media reports that the amounts of other minerals found in sea salt is insufficient to justify switching from table salt, this is not true. While sea salt may not have a lot of the minerals needed in higher amounts such as calcium and magnesium, it typically contains many minerals needed by the body in trace amounts.
While some people cite the addition of iodine to table salt as a rationale for using this processed product, it is really not a great source of iodine. Simply eating more garlic, spinach, seaweed, watercress, summer squash, sesame seeds, pineapple, pears, peaches, pumpkin and non-genetically-modified soy can help you meet your iodine needs.
Manufacturers typically add anti-caking additives to table salt to ensure it pours smoothly from salt shakers while this is not done with most sea salt. Some table salt has actually been found to contain sugar, thereby increasing most people’s already high sugar intake. I use unrefined sea salt and recommend it due its more natural, unrefined state replete with important trace minerals. While it may cost more, it is worth it.