Cupboard Essentials Part Three: Sea Salt

Salt: friend or foe?  It’s always been a bit of a paradoxical shaker on the table.  The Bible lists nearly 50 references to salt – many of them being positive references.  Yet in  our modern culture, salt is generally regarded as a health-robbing food additive linked to cardiovascular and other diseases.   Yet research is finding that our bodies do in fact need salt.  So we’re left to ask: is salt good or bad for us?  The answer is “both.” Just as there are healthy and unhealthy fats and good and bad sweeteners, there are some salts that provide our bodies with benefits and others that deplete our health.  As we’ll learn below, we do need to have salt as part of our diet – but as with many other things, our health is affected by the type we choose to consume.

The importance of salt in our lives cannot be overstated. Without salt, our bodies cannot perform some of the vital functions like regulating blood and body fluids and maintaining nerve signals. Salt deficiency leads to muscular weakness, cramps and exhaustion. Severe salt deprivation can even prove fatal.

Salt sets off an osmosis movement in the body and adjusts the amount of fluids within and outside the cells. A healthy body processes the amount of salt it needs, and expels the rest through the kidneys. The two elements of salt – sodium and chloride – play a vital role in body functions. Sodium helps in sending messages to and from the brain, regulates the body fluids and helps our muscles – including those of the heart – to contract.  Chloride preserves the acid-base balance of the body, absorbs potassium and helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide from respiratory tissues to the lungs.

All that said, the industrialization of our food consumption and tendency towards processed and packaged meals has us eating way more “bad” salt than our bodies need.  Elson Haas, one of my favorite authors on nutrition, states that about 90% of the sodium consumed in the average diet is in excess of what the body needs and the surest way to avoid the negative effects of this overconsumption (i.e. hypertension) is to partake of a natural foods diet that contains little to no added salt.  Stay away from processed foods such as lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, soy sauce, processed cheese, commercially prepared condiments and sauces and canned foods and foods containing MSG (read labels carefully and note sodium content). 

Bottom Line:  The RIGHT kind of salt, in small amounts, can be an added benefit to your diet.

Types of salt:

Sea salt: Available in both fine and coarse grains, this is made from evaporated sea water. It is rich in minerals such as iodine, magnesium, and potassium, and has a fresher and lighter flavor.

Table salt: It is basically sea salt that goes through a refining process to remove traces of naturally occurring mineral impurities. Chemical additives are added to prevent clumping.  AVOID USING IT.

Iodized salt: This is a variation of table salt. It’s fortified with iodine, as lots of iodine is lost from natural salt during processing. This helps meet the body’s iodine requirement. 

Himalayan Pink Salt: Light pink in color these are mineral rich salts from the foothills of the Himalayas. 

Rock salt: It’s the unrefined form of salt, basically used in making ice-creams.

There are many other varieties of salts out there (even a gourmet market for them).  If you want to explore more visit http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/si_gourmet_reference.asp

What kind of salt should you use?

I personally am a big fan of Himalayan Pink Salt due to both its purity and high mineral content.  It has a light translucent pink color and is often sold in crystal form. You can also find Himalayan pink salt in a fine grind which is easy to use in a regular salt shaker. If you buy the larger crystals you’ll need a salt grinder or mill in order to measure the salt for recipes or use it as table salt.

The reason for the special color in Himalayan pink salt has to do with the addition of a number of different minerals present in the salt. In addition to sodium, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and copper are all present in trace amounts. These additional minerals transfer color to the salt, with iron creating the pleasing pink color. The salt is harvested in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range and is essentially fossilized sea salt.

You can find at any health food store (or Whole Foods, Erewhon, etc.)  or gourmet food/cooking store like Sur La Table.  You can  also purchase it on the web if you can’t find a local source.  But try to save the fossil fuels sucked up by shipping if you can…..

Celtic Sea Salt is also widely recommend in many of the nutritional readings I come across.  These have a slight grey color to them and are also reputed to be very high in mineral content and an excellent choice when using salts for cleansing purposes.

How to buy and store salt:

• Avoid buying brands that use added chemicals.

• Store salt in a dark-colored bottle. It reduces loss of iodine.

• Use high-quality plastic or glass jars for salt storage.

• Avoid wide-mouthed bottles or jars. They let in moisture and make the salt damp and lumpy.

• Don’t place a wet spoon or moist fingertips in your salt.

• Add a few grains of rice to protect the salt from becoming moist.

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