This blog entry again focuses on reader-requested commentary. There were a lot of requests to discuss salt in the diet and how that actually affects blood pressure, but one in particular asked specifically about differences in sea salt and table salt.
There has been a lot in advertising lately to tout the change in soup and other canned or processed foods to the use of sea salt as an ingredient. This is primarily a response to public outcry that sodium is bad, and low-sodium foods taste boring and gross.
So what exactly is the difference? To understand this, you need to look at what you are ingesting when you use the 2 different kinds of salt.
First, the traditional table salt:
Table salt has been, and still is, widely used to season foods and make them a lot tastier. The problem with this is that aside from training your taste buds to love food that is terrible for you, this salt is very high in absorbable sodium.
Most nutritionists are recommending now that the maximum amount of traditional salt should be limited to 1 teaspoon per day. Are you kidding? Most people eat more than that in one breakfast…consider the low-carb lovers who eat turkey bacon and eggs in the morning.
Even public school districts are changing the way they look at school lunches to try and reduce the extremely high levels of salt, and therefore sodium, in the foods they serve. This is no easy trick since feeding that many children is no cheap feat.
Most of the least expensive food products are also the pre-packaged ones, and offering fresh, raw fruits and vegetables (that a lot of kids won’t eat if given a choice between the two) is very, very expensive. Cuts in funding at the state and local level have districts scrambling to find healthy but affordable alternatives.
Is sea salt a good alternative, then?
Both types of salt have sodium, or they wouldn’t be salt. The amount is even generally very close to being the same.
What makes sea salt a more attractive alternative for a lot of people is that sea salt has a lot less tinkering involved to bring it to the table. By tinkering I mean refinement and processing.
Table salt is collected from underground mines. Sea salt is collected from the sea. The difference is that table salt has 3 additional steps involved before reaching you and your food: 1) it is refined to remove trace chemicals (something that sea salt keeps, to maintain flavor); 2) iodine is added, a critical element of thyroid health; and 3) a compound to prevent clumping is added.
Sea salt generally is not subject to this same processing, although there again, it depends upon the company selling it and what they do to it before they put it in the bottle.
What can everyone agree on?
Here is the list based upon my research:
1) To stay healthy, limit your sodium to 200 mg per day if you can. Less than that causes problems, but so does a lot more. It doesn’t matter if it’s sea salt or table salt. Both are sodium chloride. Limit the use of both if you are working on high blood pressure.
2) Sea salt generally has less refinement, and for most foods the less you do to it the better and healthier the food winds up being.
3) Sea salt tastes better. Part of what makes sea salt a great choice is where it comes from. Salts from different areas of the world will have different flavors because of the other minerals in the seawater. Similar ground minerals are removed in table salt during refinement.
4) If you don’t use table salt…ever…you will need an iodine supplement. Goiter is a growing problem in industrialized nations because of the limits we are now placing on salt. However, it’s better to limit salt and supplement later than overdo your sodium intake
*While this last point could have been how we leave it for you today, I would offer that finding a good iodine supplement is now going to be difficult to do. I was just reading about the 2 major manufacturers of potassium iodide, the most common iodine supplement, and their supply problems.
This is because of the hysteria over the nuclear reactor and radiation concerns coming out of Japan. It is unfortunate to see this kind of hoarding occur for 3 reasons: It is not necessary to spend that kind of money on a supplement you wouldn’t normally need, it removes the supply from the hands of people who really do need it, and it only prevents radioactive iodide absorption to the thyroid gland…not radiation from other sources, or to other organs.
So it is with this last bit of info that I let you make your own decisions about the salt you eat and the supplements you take, hopefully giving you enough to make a well-informed decision for yourself and your family.
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