It’s no secret that table salt can impact your health. It’s an essential nutrient and our bodies can’t function without salt. We’ve been hearing for years that Americans need to reduce their sodium intake. Sodium is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, and the number one cause of preventable death in the world. What you might not know is that which type of salt you use matters. Not all salt is created equal.
Different Types of Salt
There are many different varieties of salt, and it’s important to differentiate them before discussing how they can affect your health. Let’s start with what most likely comes to mind first–table salt.
Table salt is manufactured and heavily refined sodium chloride. The salt is heated to over 1200 degrees fahrenheit to remove impurities, which also removes many of it’s naturally occurring elements. Almost pure sodium chloride is what remains, as table salt is 99% sodium chloride. The salt is then ground until very fine, and as a result the salt clumps together. Anti-caking agents are added to prevent clumping, but that’s not always where the additives stop.
Things like iodide, fluoride, dextrose, potassium iodide, MSG, aluminum derivatives and even more can be added to conventional table salt. Table salt is bleached to get its bright white color too. Most salts found in nature aren’t white. Speaking of where salt it found, one way table salt is produced is by gathering flaky residue from oil digging.
Sea Salt/Kosher Salt
Sea salt is obtained through a different method than most table salt. The salt is dried through the evaporation of sea water. Sea salt retains more of the natural minerals such as beneficial magnesium, potassium, and others. It contains slightly less sodium by voulume than conventional salt, perhaps because the salt crystals are left larger. Larger crystals also means no need to add anti-caking agents.
Kosher salt is very similar in make up as sea salt, but the crystals are usually ground slightly more. It too can be derived from the sea, but it is also cultivated from underground. It’s commonly used for curing meats. Natural and unrefined sea salts have around 84% sodium chloride content. Refined version will have closer to 93% sodium chloride.
Himalayan Crystal Salt
This characteristically pink salt is harvested from the foothills of the Himalayas and gets its pink color from the iron oxide in the salt. It’s considered very pure and has been shown to contain 84 natural minerals that occur in the human body. Due to the large number of minerals in this natural salt, Himalayan salt is only 85% sodium chloride. It usually comes in large crystal form, and is even sold in solid blocks.
Dangers of Table Salt
Now that we’ve determined how table salt differs from some of the other varieties of salt, let’s look at what the differences mean for your health.
Research shows that a diet high in sodium chloride actuals drives autoimmune disease. It does so by introducing pathogenic TH17 cells. Mice were used in one portion of the study and the raised levels of sodium chloride triggered the autoimmune development of encephalomyelitis, the inflammation of the brain and spinal chord.
This synthetic chemical is sometimes found in table salt. Those sensitive to sodium benzoate can experience hives, allergic reactions, or asthma attacks. Sodium benzoate is especially of concern when combined with citric acid. Considering how prevalent salt is in cooking, that combination is likely. The mix of these two ingredients forms a cancer-causing chemical, benzene.
We’ve mentioned dextrose before. This processed sugar is made from GMO corn, which can be treated with the herbicide glyphosate. This heavily used chemical has been deemed as a probable carcinogen. In addition, dextrose contains MSG, which can lead to feelings of nausea, brain damage, learning disorders, and behavioral problems.
Iodine naturally occurs in certain foods and salt, however table salt is stripped of the naturally occurring form. Synthetic iodine is then added to conventional salt, and our bodies just cant absorb it the same. It’s true that we need iodine, but the mineral’s natural form is much more absorbable and better suited to preventing iodine deficiency. Very high levels of iodine can actual adversely affect the thyroid. It’s best to get this mineral from sources such as seaweed, seafood, and food grown in soil rich with iodine.
Other Health Concerns
Iodized table salt is commonly linked to hypertension. The blood stream attempts to move this processed salt away from the heart, thus elevating blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in stroke, dementia, and heart failure.
The average American consumes between 4000-6000 mg of salt per day, while the recommended amount from the AHA is just 1500 mg. Choosing a salt lower in sodium chloride can help reduce the effects on your health. It is said that conventional salt can lead to other side effects such as cellulite, arthritis, stroke, gallbladder and kidney stones, muscle problems, and digestive problems.
Sodium intake is especially a cause for concern for African-Americans. They develop high blood pressure more often at a younger age than the general population. A staggering 73% of African-American hypertension patients were found to have salt sensitivity. Though one reason as to why they are more sensitive to salt has yet to be determined, there are many evidence backed theories. Some suggest that it is due to a social and economic factors, as well as diet. Sodium is far more prevalent in processed foods and fast foods, so African-Americans should take care with their diet. The CDC recommends African-Americans limit daily sodium intake to 1500 mg, yet a cheeseburger with toppings almost hits that limit with 1108 mg of sodium, and that’s before the fries. A KFC Variety Big Box meal contains 3000 mg, double the recommendation in just one serving. Considering African-Americans are 80% more likely to die from a stroke, and nearly half of both African-American men and women will develop high blood pressure, diet and the sodium level of the salt they use is of utmost importance.
Let’s face it, we need salt. Not only is it essential to our health, but it also brings out the flavor in our food. What we don’t need is the health problems caused by processed salt and synthetic additives. When you are choosing what salt to cook with or season your food, opt for unrefined, natural salt. The salt you choose, such as Himalayan crystal salt, can even provide additional benefits to your health.