Our body needs a specific sodium-to-potassium ratio to normalize blood pressure so the sodium we consume maintains the balance, while the excess sodium is excreted. Throughout the past centuries, salt has played a unique role in health, politics, and commerce.
It was one of the greatest treasures in the ancient world and remained an important item in ancient economies and trade for centuries. There was even an ancient Roman proverb saying that people who do their job well are “worth their weight in salt.”
One of the most traveled salt routes was from Morocco across the Sahara Desert to Timbuktu. Egyptian ships carried salt from Egypt to Greece across the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. Also, the great wealth of Venice was attributed to common salt.
During the Middle Ages, it was even linked to superstitions, like the one that spilled salt was a premonition of doom. In the 18th century, the rank of a guest at a banquet was gauged by where they were seated in relation to the salt cellar at the table. In the 1930s, Mahatma Gandhi led a pilgrimage of followers to the seaside as a protest against high British taxes on salt in India.
This long history of reliance on salt took a wrong turn when Western medicine started relating this mineral to high blood pressure. These claims were popularized by the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study, during which lowering intake led to improvements in blood pressure.
Yet this diet not only lowers salt recommendations but also the intake of processed foods and sugars, which also affect blood pressure.
According to James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., and author of “The Salt Fix: Why the Experts Got It All Wrong — and How Eating More Might Save Your Life,” salt reduction might lead to lower blood pressure, but the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein aggravates, while the triglyceride levels and insulin resistance also increase, meaning that the risk of heart disease raises.
When the body lacks sodium, it starts pulling it from the bones, stripping magnesium and calcium to maintain a normal sodium level, leading to low magnesium and calcium levels, and damage to the bone and heart health.
Its bad reputation from the last several decades has been slowly reversing recently, and people are turning to a perceived healthier source, sea salt. However, a study that investigated 39 salt brands from 21 countries, including the U.S. and China, found that over 90 percent of them contain microplastics.
The level to which plastic microparticles have spread throughout the world is still unclear, but this study aimed at analyzing the geographical spread of microplastic in sea salt and the correlation to where plastic pollution is found in the environment.
Researchers found that only 3 brands from Taiwan, China, and France did not contain microplastic particles, and the other analyzed samples had different density of microplastics, while the Asian brands were especially high. The highest quantities were found in Indonesia.
Mikyoung Kim, campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia said that plastics have been also found in seafood, wildlife, and tap water, so the plastic crisis is alarming since it continues to leak into our waterways and oceans.
The featured study estimated that the average adult consumes nearly 2,000 microplastic beads from salt annually.
However, since most processed foods are full of added sugar, processed salt, and harmful industrially processed oils while containing virtually no healthy saturated fats or natural, unprocessed salt, even though most sea salt may contain plastic microbeads, eliminating salt from your diet is not the answer.
Despite the numerous myths linked to its consumption, here are some of the findings of studies conducted to evaluate the effects of salt:
- When processed food manufacturers lower salt content, they add monosodium glutamate (MSG) instead, a flavor enhancer that causes headaches, obesity, eye damage, fatigue and depression, and elevates the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease
- The correct potassium-to-sodium balance lowers the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease
- A whole food diet eliminates the exposure to table salts and ensures a more appropriate sodium-to-potassium ratio
- A study of Russian cosmonauts showed that eating more salt lowered thirst and increased hunger, leading to weight loss
- A low-salt diet may aggravate heart disease and elevate the risk of early death
The Problems With Ingesting Plastics
Plastic pollution has a huge impact on our environment. About 700 marine species are at risk for extinction due to it, and single-use plastics certainly contribute to this epidemic, microplastics from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been discovered in the Arctic Ocean.
Researchers have found that we consume tens of thousands of plastic microparticles annually from salt, food, dust, and water. It is a well-known fact that plastic particles contain known endocrine disrupting chemicals and other toxins, so we need to reduce the exposure as much as possible.
The Best Salt Options
Salt is manufactured in the three basic methods below:
- The solar method, which is the oldest, and used only in warm climates where the evaporation rate exceeds the precipitation rate for an extended period of time. Solar evaporation allows the transport of large quantities of natural salt water to shallow ponds where the water is allowed to evaporate, leaving crystals of this mineral.
- Rock salt mining is the second oldest method of producing salt. It involves accessing underground veins of salt using large machines.
- High-textured, high-purity salt is also manufactured through hydraulic mining or solution mining during which water is pumped below the surface to dissolve salt deposits and then pumped out. The fluid is added to commercial vacuum pans and undergoes vacuum evaporation, incorporating steam heat in a big commercial evaporator.
Our body needs sodium and chloride ions in salt crystals but is unable to produce either, so we need to obtain them from dietary sources. There are various different types of salt, and their health benefits can vary, so let us review some of them:
Pink Himalayan salt is loaded with natural minerals needed by the body and has a different balance of sodium and chloride than refined table salt that is almost all sodium chloride, with man-made chemicals added to it.
This salt is mined from salt beds in the Himalayan Mountains, that rose from the sea and were later protected by lava and covered in snow and ice for thousands of years. It is the best option when you are trying to limit the toxic load. It contains over 80 naturally occurring trace elements in their natural mineral form and improves health in many ways.
After being chemically cleaned, typical salt is actually sodium chloride, an unnatural chemical form of salt that our body needs to metabolize with difficulties.
Grey salt is colored by the clay from where it’s harvested and is often called Celtic Sea Salt. It is hand-raked in Brittany, France, where the natural clay and sand create moist, mineral-rich crystals, and it retains its moisture. This salt has alkalizing quality, restores electrolyte balance, and can prevent muscle cramps, much like pink salt.
Fleur de sel is excellent as a finishing salt, and it is hand-harvested along the French coastline in the same pools as grey salt. It is highly prized as for every 40 kilograms of grey salt produced, only 1 1/2 kilograms of delicate fleur de sel is harvested. When it comes to its benefits, it is rich in minerals and has a delicate flavor and texture.
Black lava salt is unrefined and volcanic salt that originates from Hawaii. It is black due to the presence of activated charcoal, which is great for detoxifying the body and supporting healthy digestion. Additionally, when added to dishes, its black color makes them visually appealing.
Kala namak is another black salt, which originates from India, and when ground, it turns pink. This type of salt is highly sulphuric in taste and content, so it is believed to be beneficial for the digestive process.
If used occasionally, both these black salts can be healthful.
Red salt originates from Hawaii, and it has got its red color from the volcanic Hawaiian clay called alaea. As water evaporates, the salt gets trapped in tidal pools, and there, it mixes with this clay. It is especially rich in iron and is believed to have the highest concentration of essential trace minerals of any salt. Therefore, it would be of great help to people deficient in iron.
Persian blue salt is harvested from an ancient salt lake in Iran. Its blue color is due to the natural compression of the structure over the millennia. It has a slightly sweet taste and is full of minerals.
Yet, despite being aesthetically appealing, and being one of the rarest salts in the world, this salt does not provide as many health benefits as other salts.
Smoked salts have been smoked at low temperatures over a bed of coals. This explains their smokey flavor and grey or tan color. Yet, these salts have no significant nutritional benefits over normal sea salt. They are just an interesting addition to certain dishes.
Remember that we can all make a change if we reduce or eliminate the use of plastic containers and disposable products packaged in plastic. Instead, choose glass, as it is a healthy, reusable and recyclable option to use at home.