Is Salt Really Bad for You?

If I was playing the “stranded on a desert island” game and could only take one seasoning in this world…I’d have to go with salt! I love cooking with and finishing food with salt. Nothing brings out the best in a dish or marries flavors together better! Have you ever had salted watermelon? Trust me, you should try it! Besides being my personal fave, salt also has an important historical significance. Mohandas Gandhi led tens of thousands of people to the Arabian Sea in one of his most famous acts of civil disobedience, known as the “Salt March”, in protest against British taxation of one of India’s staple seasonings! Salt is what ties together all of the complex flavors in a typical Indian curry. Flavor, however, isn’t the only function of salt in our diets.

Sel gris

  First let’s talk about some health risks. Most people connect salt consumption with hypertension (aka high blood pressure) and are often advised to restrict salt to prevent or reduce it. In some cases this works, but not in others. For some people this works, for others it doesn’t. That’s the beauty of our biochemical individuality! 

Studies showed that some people can effectively eliminate a high amount of dietary salt without experiencing any blood pressure changes, while others experience a rise. Whether your blood pressure levels are affected by salt or not can be predicted with genomic testing and interpretation. This can be done if you become a patient of mine and request Genomic Insight testing and an Opus 23 consult. There are a few different genetic variations that combine to predispose one to salt-sensitive hypertension so it’s important to work with a practitioner that looks at your genes as a network not simply evaluating at individual SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and drawing conclusions. 

It’s not all bad news! Certain salts provide necessary minerals to our bodies. In fact, there are over 10 different types of salt with varying mineral contents, shapes, sizes, colors, and flavor profiles. The mineral content depends on the region of the planet the salt is harvested from. The shape and size is determined by the drying method. Some salts are taken from salt mines (land) while others come from evaporated salt water (i.e. sea salt!). If you’re a snobby salt lover like me, you may know the exact geographical region where you prefer your salt from!

Let’s dig a little deeper into the most commonly found salts:

Table Salt: This is iodized salt, meaning it is enriched with the mineral iodine. This practice started back in 1924 to prevent goiter–an enlarged thyroid gland. Back then, those that didn’t live near a shore did not have access to seafood and therefore were often iodine/mineral deficient. Iodine is necessary for a healthy functioning thyroid and symptoms of hypothyroidism (weight gain, fatigue, depression, etc) were abundant until iodized salt hit the scene. Nowadays goiter is much less prevalent.

The problem with table salt is the use of anti-caking agents such as aluminum compounds which are considered to be neurotoxic and damaging to the blood brain barrier in high doses. Also important to note: processed foods typically have a high sodium content but do NOT use iodized forms of salt in preparation. Those not eating whole foods or supplementing with iodized salt are at a much higher risk to be deficient!

Winner! Himalayan Pink Salt:  In my understanding, this salt is the best! The pink salt is harvested from land in the Himalayan mountains. It has the most complex mineral profile including high iron content which gives its pink hue. Himalayan salt is said to contain all of the minerals necessary for the human body including trace and macro minerals. This also gives it the most robust flavor! 

Celtic Sea Salt: This happens to have my favorite taste as it’s kind of briny like the ocean. It makes sense because celtic sea salt is harvested from the bottom of tidal ponds off the coast of France! In French it’s known as “sel gris” or gray salt. The high magnesium content is responsible for the color though there are also many other minerals present from the ocean as well, such as zinc, potassium, etc.

Flake Salt: Ok, I’ll admit it–I once spent $12.00 on the tiniest box of flake salt because it’s just so yummy! I love the punch of flavor and how it melts in to any dish. It’s also visually appealing. However, this salt has a very low mineral content. It’s made from evaporating saltwater. Expensive isn’t always healthier! 

Black Hawaiian Salt: This is harvested from volcanic islands and gets its black color from activated charcoal content. This salt is the best to use in my homemade electrolyte drink recipe (aka “the magic hangover cure”!). 

There are various types of sea salt from different locations, flavored salts with smoke or herbs added to them, and even salts such as “bath salts” that aren’t meant for consumption. Please don’t eat your bath salts! 

  Let’s say you find out you do not have salt-sensitive hypertension. Does that mean you can salt freely without guilt? Not necessarily. Excess salt can cause water retention which leads to puffiness, bloating, and weight gain. It also increases the risk of formation of kidney stones and development of osteoporosis and stomach cancer! Even if your blood pressure doesn’t rise in response, it’s still important to use salts in a balanced manner. Current recommendations indicate a limit of 1500 mg of sodium daily is ideal. If you’re using Himalayan pink salt (like I suggest!) this translates into under 1 teaspoon daily.  If you’re hooked on salt like me but need to reduce you can always search up sodium low/free salt replacements and give them a go! My favorite is “Wright Salt” which has been shown in studies to actually decrease risk of heart disease!  Either way, go forward and season with knowledge!

References:

  1. Salt Sensitivity and Hypertension: A Paradigm Shift from Kidney Malfunction to Vascular Endothelial Dysfunction Hoon Young Choi, Hyeong Cheon Park, Sung Kyu Electrolyte Blood Press. 2015 Jun; 13(1): 7–16. Published online 2015 Jun 30. doi:10.5049/EBP.2015.13.1.7
  2. History of U.S. iodine fortification and supplementation. A.M. Leung et al, Nutrients, November 13, 2012, doi: 10.3390/nu4111740