Even as a dietetic student with limited experience, I have already encountered this statement several times, “Oh, I don’t use salt. I use sea salt.” Or pink himalayan salt. Or some other new-fangled, grind-in-the-bottle variety of salt. Often, the next statement is something along the lines of, “It’s healthier. It’s less processed.” As a dietetic professional-in-training, this is a frustrating misconception to come across, but an understandable one, given the way these “artisan salts” are marketed.
I’m here to tell you some bad news: salt is salt is salt is salt. Whether it’s pink or white, whether it’s sourced from the deepest depths of the ocean or from the ground, salt does the same thing in your body. In the appropriate amount, it helps your body’s fluids maintain the right balance. In excess, salt can elevate your blood pressure, which increases your chance of heart attack, stroke, and other health issues.
Let’s also look at this concept of “processing.” The term is used very loosely, typically to describe junk foods. However, “processing” can mean something as simple as plucking an apple from a tree, loading it into a crate, and shipping it to a grocery store. Anything that you pick up at the supermarket is processed. In fact, anything that you pick from your own garden and carry inside has just been processed, to a certain extent. Sea salt is processed the same way. Although practices vary by company, salt is typically extracted from the water, rinsed a few times, and then allowed to dry fully. After this point, it heads to the factory and is loaded onto a conveyor belt for further processing, kilning, and packaging. Table salt is mined from underground deposits and undergoes a similar process with the addition of iodine and an additive to prevent clumping.
Another consideration when selecting your salt is that sea salt and other specialty salts are usually not iodized, meaning they’re not fortified with iodine. Iodine is a trace element that’s necessary for proper neurocognitive development and healthy thyroid function. Although the body only needs a very small amount of iodine, it’s not found in many food sources. That’s why the U.S. launched an initiative to add the element to salt in 1924 after a series of studies revealed that iodine deficiency was contributing to an increase in goiter. After manufacturers began iodizing salt across the nation, the overall iodine nutritional status of the country improved.
So what’s the takeaway here? Use salt—whichever type you like—but use it sparingly. Remember that sea salt, pink himalayan salt, and any other variety you might find all contribute to the 2,300 milligrams per day sodium limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
Submitted by Michelle Algeo, currently an intern with the Harrington HealthCare Dietary Department.