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Nutrition 101: Salt

By Annette Demeny

Welcome to part four of my mini-series, Nutrition 101! This week’s focus is all things…SALT.

If you want to go back and catch up on Parts 1, 2, or 3, just click here for Calories, Carbohydrates, and Fats.

What is salt?

  • Salt, often referred to as ‘sodium’, is composed of two minerals, sodium and chloride. On average, it is around 40% sodium and 60% chloride, although this figure can vary depending on the type of salt you are consuming.
  • About 1% of our blood is salt. Everyone needs salt for fluid balance and muscle and nerve function.
  • The human body regulates how much sodium it contains. Too much or too little can cause problems. If levels are too high, we get thirsty and drink, and the kidneys speed up the process of getting rid of it. This is linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and kidney stones. Too little sodium can lead to seizures, dizziness, confusion and hyponatremia.
  • Salt has been around for thousands of years, and it was once so valuable that people traded it ounce-per-ounce with gold.

How Much Salt Do We Need? 

If you’re a healthy adult, The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day, which equates to roughly one teaspoon of salt, and less than 1,500mg for those with high blood pressure. On average, Americans consume 3,400 mg per day.

Precisely how much salt is enough and how much is too much is specific for each individual. It depends on dietary factors (like potassium and water intake), genetics, existing diseases, and activity levels.

Did you know that the salt shaker accounts for only about 10% of the average American’s salt use? The three foods that add the most salt to the US diet are:

  1. Bread
  2. Cold cuts / Deli meats
  3. Pizza
  4. Precooked frozen foods
  5. Salty snacks (chips, crackers)
  6. Restaurant meals / Fast food

Part of the reason we crave salty snacks is because our cells need salt to function. Every single cell in our bodies contains salt in the form of ions. These charged particles become the electricity that powers our cells to perform whichever essential function they’re designed to do, like converting nutrients into energy. Because our bodies are continually losing salts when we sweat or use the restroom, we need to replenish the supply of salts through our diet constantly. When replenishing, we need to always do so in moderation. Balance is so important. One sure way to reach that balance is replacing harmful, high sodium foods with more fruits, beans and vegetables — garnish with as much pepper, garlic and herbs as you want!

 

Are There Different Types of Salt?

So, why is it that in our Western civilization, we have a huge problem with cardiovascular disease, which can be linked to our salt intake but other countries, such as Japan, are consuming MORE salt than us, but have the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease? The problem may be where we’re getting our salt from. In Japan, they get their salt from natural sources that haven’t been heavily refined and still contain their beneficial minerals. Unlike the West, we tend to use highly-processed table salt to flavor our already salty foods.

The type of salt you choose to consume is extremely important. Below I’ve listed a few of what are considered to be the healthiest salts available:

 

Table Salt

Table salt – the most common – is harvested from salt deposits found underground. It’s highly refined and finely ground and trace minerals are removed in the process. It doesn’t clump because an anti-caking agent is added to it. Iodine has also been added. This is why is called “iodized salt”.

 

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt – is coarser-grained than regular table salt. Its large grain size makes it perfect for sprinkling on top of meat and great as an all-purpose cooking salt. Most kosher salts doesn’t contain added iodine or anti-caking agents.

One teaspoon of coarse “kosher” salt has 1,920 mg of sodium. A teaspoon of regular table salt has 2,360 mg of sodium, 23% more sodium than a teaspoon of coarse salt. That’s because more of the fine crystal salt can fit into a teaspoon than the larger coarse salt particles that are packed more loosely.

 

Sea Salt

Sea Salt – sea salt is usually unrefined and coarser-grained than table salt. Harvested from evaporated seawater, it contains some of the minerals from where it was harvested – zinc, potassium, and iron. It also contains a small amount of natural iodine, but not as much as table salt.

 

Himalayan Salt

Himalayan Salt – is the purest form of salt in the world and is harvested by hand from Khewra Salt Mine in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan. Its color ranges from off-white to deep pink. Rich in minerals – it contains the 84 natural minerals and elements found in the human body – Himalayan salt is used in spa treatments, as well as the kitchen. The Pink color comes from it’s rich iron content and can assist in reducing muscle cramps, promoting blood sugar health and balancing pH in your cells. Pink Himalayan Salt has become very popular and affordable so when purchasing it, make sure you select a reputable brand to insure a good quality salt.

 

Celtic Salt

Celtic Salt – harvested and hand-raked from the bottom of tidal ponds off the coast of France, Celtic Salt (grey salt, sel gris) is a good, all-around unprocessed salt with lots of flavor and minerals. It contains more than 15 percent trace minerals and therefore less sodium, and has been proven to raise trace mineral levels in the body. This grey salt can help restore electrolyte balance and can prevent muscle cramps. Although a bit more expensive, this is my favorite salt to use. It’s great on fish and meat as both a cooking and finishing salt, as well as for baking.

 

Next week, we will wrap up this mini-series with making sense of SUGAR!

 

Sources

DA. (n.d.). Sodium in your diet: Use the nutrition facts label and reduce your intake
http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm315393.htm

About sodium (salt). (2014, April 29). AHA
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sodium-and-Salt_UCM_303290_Article.jsp#.WXtd1NPyvMI

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22110105/

 

SFY Recommends

Celtic Salt

 

What is YOUR favorite salt? 

 

 

 

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