Doctors and scientists have long been telling us to reduce our salt intake, so it may be hard to swallow when I tell you research shows that a low-salt diet doesn’t reduce high blood pressure. But the type of salt you are consuming does make a world of difference for your health.
Salt Health Benefits
Nutritionist Sally Fallon reminds us that all traditional cultures have used salt in some form. But they didn’t, of course, use the refined table salt we find in our salt shakers. They used salt from the sea.
Refined Table Salt vs. Sea Salt
Refined salt is produced from sea salt originally. It starts as a ‘real food’ then quickly becomes a ‘fake food.’ Manufacturers harvest this salt with methods that strip it of all its naturally-occurring minerals. They then use a number of additives (including aluminum) to dry it and heat it to temperatures of about 1,200 degrees, which alters its chemical structure. The stripped iodine is replaced with potassium iodide in potentially toxic amounts. The salt is then stabilized with dextrose, which turns it purple. Finally it is bleached white.
Sun-dried sea salt, on the other hand, is laced with marine life (organic forms of iodine) and many essential minerals. This type of salt remains in the body at work for several weeks. Refined salt passes through the body quickly and may be why researcher Henry Bieler found signs of sodium starvation in people who ate lots of refined salt.
Celtic sea salt, that which is farmed with ancient methods from the salt marshes of Brittany, is one of the best varieties that are readily available in the US. It is light grey in color and carries 80 trace minerals and 14% of it is composed of macro-minerals. Red sea salt from Hawaii is superior to Celtic sea salt but is much harder to obtain.
What Sea Salt Provides
Aside from seasoning our food and adding taste, sea salt provides us with sodium, chloride, iodine, and a host of other essential minerals.
Every bodily fluid contains sodium. Why? It is needed for many biochemical processes including (but not limited to): adrenal gland function, cell wall stability, muscle contractions, nerve stimulation, pH and water balance regulation.
Chloride works in concert with sodium and potassium to regulate pH in the blood and the passage of fluids across cell membranes. Chloride is the basis of hydrochloric acid which is needed to digest protein. Chloride also activates enzymes that digest carbohydrates and is necessary for the proper growth and functioning of the brain.
Trace amounts of chloride can also be found in celery and coconut.
Iodine is needed for many biochemical processes including: fat metabolism, mental development, muscle function, the production of sex hormones and thyroid function.
Iodine is found in most foods from the sea including fish broths, kelp and seaweed. It is also found in butter, asparagus, artichokes, dark green vegetables and pineapple.
Salt and Science
A study published in the 1985 British Medical Journal involved people that had a family history of high blood pressure. The participants restricted their salt intake for eight weeks. At the end of the study, no differences were found in their blood pressure readings.
Award-winning researcher Gary Taubes published a report called “The (Political) Science of Salt” in a 1998 edition of Science Magazine. In the report, Taubes concluded that “After interviews with some 80 researchers, clinicians, and administrators around the world, it is safe to say that if ever there were a controversy over the interpretation of scientific data, this is it…”
“After decades of intensive research, the apparent benefits of avoiding salt have only diminished. This suggests that either the true benefit has now been revealed and is indeed small or that it is non-existent and researchers believing they have detected such benefits have been deluded by the confounding of other variables.”
Salt and Processed Food
Professor Lichtenstein of the American Heart Association nutrition committee says, “If people eat a diet like the one we recommend that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, they probably won’t be consuming a lot of sodium.”
Therein lies the rub.
Most of the salt that people consume in the United States doesn’t get sprinkled on our food from a salt shaker. It is already present in the large amounts of processed foods the average American consumes.
This is a big deal when you realize that we spend over 90% of our grocery funds on processed foods in the US.
Dietician Katherine Zeratsky explains that salt is used to prevent spoilage and kill bacteria in processed foods. It also adds flavor and disguises unwanted tastes in food. The American Heart Association recommendation that we limit our salt intake to 2,300 mg per day is the amount of salt we eat in just an average amount of processed foods every day.
Raw vs. Cooked Foods
One of the most important roles of salt is an enzyme activator, says Sally Fallon. This is why, she theorizes, that enzyme researcher Edward Howell found that cultures that eat large quantities of raw foods need very little salt while those that eat mostly cooked foods ingest large quantities of salt.
Raw and fermented foods contain high levels of enzymes which help to digest our food and boost the immune system. Enzymes are deactivated by heat and cause the pancreas to work overtime.
Edward Howell found that low enzyme ingestion causes a “shortened life span, illness and lowered resistance to stress of all types.” He also found that people who ate mostly cooked foods, especially grains, had enlarged pancreases and smaller glands and other organs.
The health disparity of many Asian cultures as compared to ours is most likely due in part to the amount of raw and fermented foods in their diet. Ke-tsiap was an enzyme and mineral-rich condiment borrowed from the East by Dutch traders. The English added mushrooms and walnuts to this fermented fish sauce, Americans added tomatoes, and this once tasty and nutritious condiment is the forerunner of our highly processed favorite today: ketchup, which is now mostly cooked tomato and high-fructose corn syrup. Yet another example of a ‘real food’ becoming a ‘fake food.’