Salt is a topic of nutrition controversy and has been blamed for many health concerns from heart disease to high blood pressure. In fact, salt is one of the most common questions people ask me, and with good reason, it can be very confusing. With so many brands of salt on the market, and so much contradictory information, it can be tough to decide which salts are best, so here is my simple guide to sea salt.
Functions of Salt
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a nutrient that is essential to life itself as it is found in every cell in the body. Sodium is one of the electrolytes, along with potassium and chloride, that helps to regulate the body’s movement of water as it is a major component of extracellular fluid. Salt has been valued throughout history; the word salt is the source of the word salary from a time when workers were actually paid in salt, and as civilization and agriculture spread, salt became one of the first international commodities of trade. Despite its bad press, salt has many vital functions in the body making it necessary for good health. Salt is important for balancing the fluid level of the blood, managing the body’s acid-alkaline balance, functions of the nervous system, adrenal function, stomach acid production, and proper nutrient absorption in the intestinal tract.
The need for salt can vary from person to person based on health history, activity level, diet, and much more. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is typically high in sodium from packaged food items, including everything from boxed cereals and bread to soup and sauces, and therefore exceeds required sodium levels, especially in the refined form. Health Canada suggested that individuals over the age of 14 should not consume more than 2300mg of sodium per day in all forms, as higher levels have been linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. However, if you are consuming mostly whole foods in their whole format (or one-ingredient foods), which contain no added sodium, using high-quality sea salt during the cooking or seasoning process can be totally acceptable.
Sea Salt vs. Table Salt
As we talk about salt, it is important to distinguish between sea salt and regular table salt. The main differences between table salt and sea salt are their processing and texture.
Sea salt is produced from evaporating water from oceans or saltwater lakes with little or no processing. Depending on the source of the water, sea salt may contain various trace minerals with small amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, and iron. The various minerals add flavor and color to sea salt, however, this is also dependent on whether the sea salt is refined or unrefined. Unrefined sea salt is unwashed, often grey in color, and therefore still contains trace minerals, however, you can also buy refined sea salt which has lost its colors and trace minerals in the process.
On the contrary, regular table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and is heavily processed. Although research is still unclear, there is some evidence that suggests sea salt does contain higher amounts of trace minerals. Moreover, table salt, also known as iodized salt, commonly contains undesirable additives such as anti-caking agents like sodium silicoaluminate or sodium ferrocyanide, and sometimes even added sugars, making it a less than desirable option. Therefore, when using salt, I recommended opting for an unrefined sea salt sea whenever possible.
Types of Sea Salt
Sea salts come in many shapes and colors, and with so many different brands on the market, it can be hard to know which to look for. This is a quick breakdown and definition of some of the most common sea salts available:
Sea Salt: Sea salt is a broad term that generally refers to unrefined salt derived directly from seawater. It is harvested by channeling ocean water into large clay trays and allowing the sun and wind to evaporate it naturally. It can be used as an all-purpose salt and it’s available coarse or fine-grained, and there are many different sources of sea salt.
Grey Salt: Grey salt is a “moist,” unrefined sea salt, usually found in the Brittany region of France’s Atlantic coast. Its natural, light-grey color comes from the minerals absorbed from the clay lining the salt ponds and is collected by hand using traditional Celtic methods and wooden tools.
Fleur de Sel: Fleur de Sel, which literally translates to “Flower of Salt”, is a finishing salt best known for its delicate taste and unique texture. True Fleur de Sel is hand-harvested from regions of France and is made up of only young crystals that form naturally on the surface of salt evaporation ponds.
Pink Salt: Pink salt, also often known as Himalayan pink salt, is the most popular of the colored salts and it is often harvested from salt mines in regions of Pakistan, while others are found in Peru and Australia. It can be used in place of table or sea salt and it gives a slightly crunchy texture to dishes. Pink salt also often contains trace minerals.
Flake Salt: A form of sea salt, what separates flake salt from other varieties is its texture. The most popular form of flake salt is Maldon, a British-based company, which is made by boiling and filtering seawater is filtered and boiled to remove impurities and then heating until the salt crystals are formed. Flake salt can be used anywhere sea salt can be used but also make a great finishing salt.
Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is harvested by either evaporation or from mining the earth, so it may or may not be considered sea salt. Kosher originally got its name for its use in the preparation of meat according to the requirements of Jewish dietary guidelines, however, today it often simply refers to coarse-grained salt made from salt crystals. It does not contain iodine but does sometimes have anti-caking agents. It has a cleaner, more even, and less salty taste than ordinary table salt, but is more processed than sea salt.
The Best Salts to Buy
There are many different salt brands on the market, and depending on your area you might have different types available. Ideally, when buying salt ensure that you are always opting for pure sea salt, and look for the most unrefined versions as much as possible; grey, pink, or Himalayan. There are many brands available, however, Celtic Sea Salt and Redmon Real Salt happen to be my two favorite brands.