Last updated on 13 May 2020.
I'd like to say a short note of thanks to the kind words some of you listeners have been sending in. I'm thrilled that you find the show so helpful.
As for today's topic, I still remember attending a cooking demonstration — this was a few years ago — and the instructor was showing the class ways to season vegetables.
When it came to adding salt, the instructor insisted we use Himalayan sea salt. They mentioned that this form of salt is less processed and therefore is better for you.
So let’s explore that a bit further and see if it's really true…
What is Salt?
I should start by mentioning that all salt is technically sea salt. This is because those underground salt mines, at one point, were under water.
Salt is basically made up of two components: sodium and chloride which is why you’ll hear some nerds like me sometimes refer to salt as sodium chloride. Each form of salt contains some sodium and some chloride but they may differ in the ways they are processed. These different processing methods may often lead to differences in taste, and even texture as well.
When we think about the potential health effects of salt, we are often referring to the sodium itself. Too much sodium consumed for years and years can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure. Let’s keep this in mind as I discuss some of the different forms of salt.
Sea salt is made by simply evaporating sea water (or other forms of salty water). Usually there is some processing involved here as well but often it’s minimal. Depending on where the original water source came from, the salt may have other minerals attached to it. These minerals may add some color and may cause the salt to have a different texture.
To get from sea salt to table salt, you have some more processing involved. Part of this is the removal of some these trace minerals that are typically found in sea salt. Removing the trace minerals removes some of the color. This is why table salt is consistently white. Some companies may incorporate an additive during the processing to prevent any clumping also, but most add iodine. Iodine is also a mineral and super important for the prevention of serious conditions. These can range from stunted growth in children to thyroid issues in adults. Many countries now iodize their salt to prevent iodine deficiencies. This is why many consider table salt to be superior to other salts. Sea salt actually doesn’t contain much iodine, if any at all.
Iodine and Minerals in Salt
You may wonder, don’t we get iodine in our diets in other ways besides salt?
Yes – seafood (including seaweed), yogurt, milk, and some grains. Even though these foods are commonly consumed, there are still risks for deficiency even for those living in the U.S. This can be partly explained by the fact that some foods can actually interfere with our body’s ability to metabolize iodine.
Many are surprised to find that these are actually nutritious foods, like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, soy and cauliflower. You may have noticed that most of these are from the cabbage family of vegetables. We also know that most of the soil in the U.S. is low in iodine (it didn’t use to be). And salt used in processed foods are often stripped of iodine.
Trace Minerals in Salt
I also want to mention that having trace minerals in your salts may not always be a good thing. What if it’s lead? Or arsenic? Or in the case of Himalayan salt, plutonium? In some cases removing these impurities can be beneficial.
Studies have also found other potentially harmful compounds like lead, arsenic and cadmium in these products. So, if these Himalayan salts don’t undergo processing to remove these compounds, well, now we may end up consuming it.
Are There Health Benefits to Using Salt Lamps?
Recently, someone asked me about salt lamps.
Salt lamps are basically like they sound: a clump of salt placed on top of a light bulb. They create a relaxing and calming ambience. Simple enough.
The theory behind these is that, when you run them, they change the electrical charge of the air and by doing this, may lead to health benefits. Unfortunately, we don’t know if this actually happens.
So, right now, there doesn’t appear to be any science-backed health benefits to using salt lamps.
Which Salt is Healthier and Which Type of Salt Should You Use?
With regards to the actual sodium content between these forms, it turns out they’re basically similar. Some forms like Kosher salt and sea salt may have a little bit less actual sodium, but not enough to lead to significant health effects (positive or negative). Ditto for Himalayan salt. However, if a recipe calls for Kosher salt for example, you’ll want use that. This is because if you substitute with table salt instead, you will end up with a saltier tasting dish. This is because Kosher salt crystals tend to be much larger, so when you end up using table salt instead, you will end up with a lot more than you need!
Regardless of the type of salt you prefer to use, current recommendations by most health agencies stand that adults should get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This is a little less than 1 teaspoon. Yes, even with the pushback from those studies about salt not being associated with increased disease risk, we’re finding that many of those studies were quite flawed. So it couldn’t hurt to just continue be on the safe side and keep salt (sodium, really) intake to a moderate level.
I’ll end by with a quote by one of the smartest individuals in the world, Marilyn Vos Savant. In case you weren’t aware, she is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having one of the highest I.Q.s known to humans. My wife thinks I am in love with her but I swear I just respect her for her intelligence.
She weighed on this very topic when a reader of her column asked which is healthier, sea salt or table salt? She mentioned that iodine is added to table salt (sound familiar?) and because of its impact on reducing iodine deficiencies worldwide, “table salt is healthier.”