Have you been wondering lately what all the hype is about with sea salt and pink salt and himalayan salt and all these other fancy and expensive salts in the stores now? I mean, salt is salt right? And besides, aren’t doctors telling us that we should be eating less of the stuff now anyway?
In fact, not all salt is created equal. Have you ever done a taste comparison between table salt and unrefined sea salt? It’s shocking really, how different they are. Table salt just tastes.. saltier, somehow. Real sea salt – un-messed-with, unrefined, natural, good old salt from the sea – has such complex flavours that it’s hard to describe it. It really is an amazing substance. It has the ability to completely transform a dish into something amazing. It brings out flavours like crazy.
And not only does real salt taste better, it’s actually good for you. Without it our hormonal systems would be completely out of whack, our blood pressure, blood volume and electrolytes would be all askew. In fact, we can’t live without salt. There are around 75 different trace minerals in sea salt (this differs depending on where the sea salt comes from). Whereas in table salt, there are only 4 or 5.
Our bodies need these trace minerals in very small amounts, but we DO need them – they are vital to the healthy functioning of our bodies. It is even more important these days to seek out good sources of trace minerals, as our soil is depleted more and more every year by intensive agriculture and contain very few minerals any more.
One reason some people may be reluctant to switch from table salt to sea salt is the iodine content. Iodine is added to table salt in order to prevent goiter (a swelling of the thyroid gland in response to a lack of iodine in the diet). Insufficient iodine can lead to an under-active thyroid gland, which can cause any number of problems, including slowed metabolism, dry skin and hair, lowered libido, lowered heart rate, low energy, inefficient digestion, depression and weight gain.
A lack of iodine and resultant low thyroid function, is one of the leading causes of mental retardation in infants, and can lower a child’s IQ by 10-15 points! It has also been linked to dwarfism, hearing loss and other health problems. Clearly, iodine is critical during pregnancy, not only for the baby’s brain and nervous system development, but also for the health of the mother (low-thyroid-induced mental retardation can also affect the mom). Perhaps the so-called “baby brain” that many mothers suffer from is partly due to a lack of iodine in the diet?
An under-active thyroid gland is much more common during pregnancy, as the demands of the growing fetus require more vitamins and minerals than the mother has sometimes, and can deplete her body quite quickly of vital nutrients.
While we are on the topic of pregnancy – did you know that a low-functioning thyroid gland can also contribute to infertility?
So if iodine is obviously so important, why on earth am I trying to steer you away from iodized table salt?? The sad fact is that table salt is a chemically altered, unnatural substance that contains many other harmful additives that outweigh the good of the iodine.
If you take a moment and read the ingredients on any box of table salt, what you will most likely find is sugar (yes, sugar!), chemical preservatives, sodium ferrocyanide (also known as Yellow Prussiate of Soda), and aluminum.
Aluminum is a part of the anti-caking agents added to table salt to make it pour more easily. Unfortunately, aluminum is not a harmless substance – it is a known neurotoxin and can interfere with virtually any organ function. It has been suggested that aluminum toxicity plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), and Parkinson’s disease.
Sodium ferrocyanide, or Yellow Prussiate of Soda, releases toxic cyanide gas when it is mixed with an acidic medium (think tomatoes, vinegar, alcohol etc). Hmm.. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t seem like something I want inside of me.
In my opinion, there are far less harmful sources of iodine that are easily incorporated into the diet, and depending on where you live, this may or may not be of great importance to you.
If you live on the coast and eat plenty of wild seafood, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with iodine as seafood contains plenty, as well as vegetables grown in soil near the ocean.
However, if you live inland, such as in the prairies like me, we live in an area known as the “goiter belt”. The soil is severely deficient in iodine, plus we rarely get fresh seafood here, so the occurrence of iodine deficiency is much higher in these areas.
Another factor to take into consideration is if you are pregnant or preparing for pregnancy – in this case iodine is of much greater importance and you should ensure you are consuming plenty of it.
If iodine is a concern for you, the absolute best sources are seaweeds such as kelp, nori, wakame and dulse, and wild seafood. You can buy kelp in a shaker to add to food like salt. This is how I use it. It doesn’t have much flavour at all, and just a dash of it will give you enough iodine for the day. Please note that I do not recommend supplementing with iodine unless you have had your blood tested and you know for sure that you are deficient in iodine. Too much iodine can cause harm as well, and can displace other minerals in the body. This is avoided by acquiring your iodine from food, as food contains all the minerals in perfect balance for your body to utilize properly, and the body will be able to discard any excess more efficiently than it will with a concentrated supplement.
Aside from iodine deficiency, there are, of course, plenty of other causes of an under-functioning thyroid gland, such as pesticide exposure, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and inflammation (to name a few), but that is a discussion for another day.
Sea salt contains trace amounts of iodine, but not enough to rely on solely. However, the numerous other trace minerals and elements present in sea salt are immensely important for our health, and don’t come with all of the dangerous ingredients in table salt. Sea salt is also lower in sodium compared to table salt, so if your doctor is recommending you reduce your sodium intake, this is a great way to start, while not losing out on the benefits of the other minerals in sea salt. Plus it just tastes better!
So what about all the different kinds of sea salts out there? Which ones are better and how do you choose? If you just want a plain old salt, nothing fancy – then go with a basic unrefined sea salt. It should be grey in colour, and comes in various coarsenesses. Himalayan pink salt is another great choice but can be more expensive – I use it for finishing a dish, or in desserts. There are also a million different flavoured salts that have been infused with herbs, spices or other flavours. These can complement any number of dishes and are really just personal preference.
The most important thing to remember when looking for a good quality salt, is to find one that is unrefined. This will ensure that you are getting real salt, nothing added and nothing taken away.
What’s your favourite salt? How do you use it? Share your experiences or questions in the comments below!
This post was shared on Wellness Wednesdays.