Recently many people have become concerned about excessive salt intake and its supposed link to high blood pressure. Supermarket shelves are filled with new products which contain less salt or no salt at all. Most plant foods contain a lot of potassium, and a little sodium. Cells need the correct balance of potassium and salt. The ratio that your body maintains is about three parts potassium and one part sodium. Humans and other animals evolved to survive in this environment over millions of years. We’re very good at conserving sodium, and very good at getting rid of potassium. Our taste buds sensitively detect small amounts of salt, alerting us to those edibles that supply the once-rare substance. Then we got clever, and figured out how to dig salt out of the ground, and harvest the ocean’s salt from shallow ponds. Our sense of taste is still designed for the ancient situation in which salt was scarce. We don’t have any feedback mechanism to tell us when we’ve had too much salt. We can easily eat much more salt than our kidneys are able to excrete.
Some people think they “crave” salt. There are several different reasons why you may be craving salt. The first one is that over the years your body and your taste buds have been accustomed to a lot of salt. If you are trying to cut back on salt because of health reasons, your body will crave it, simply because it is used to lots of salt. Craving salty foods can also be a symptom of adrenal exhaustion, especially in people who live fast-paced, stressful lives. You could also be craving salt because your body needs the additional minerals found in natural salt. These minerals have been filtered out of our regular table salt. In this case eating salty food will only satisfy your craving temporarily until your body realizes it is still missing the extra minerals.
The question that remains is, how important is salt restriction? Are there times when salt is acceptable? Finally, is all salt the same?
Restricting salt in your diet is one of conventional nutrition’s most well-known mantras. Salt, they say, will contribute to high blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease. While this may be true for certain salt-sensitive people, it doesn’t apply to most of you in the general population. No study on the general population has ever found an association between low-sodium diets and a reduced risk of heart disease or other diseases.
Salt controls the amount of water in our bodies and it maintains the critical balance between our cells and body fluids. Salt also aids in the contraction of muscle tissue and serves as a vital ingredient of blood plasma and digestive secretions. Salt is an electrolyte that your body needs. Electrolytes are minerals that dissolve in water and can carry electrical charges. Pure water does not conduct electricity, but water containing salt does. The three major electrolytes are sodium, potassium and chloride. Other body electrolytes are magnesium, calcium, zinc, and many others in very small amounts (called trace minerals). They are electrically charged so they can carry nutrients into and out of your cells. They also carry messages along your nerves and help control your heartbeat. Since your body is made mostly of water, these minerals can be found everywhere in your body. They are inside your cells, in the spaces between your cells, in your blood, your lymph, and everywhere else. Since they have an electrical charge they can move through you cell membranes and thus carry other nutrients with them into the cells and waste products and excess water out of the cells.
Current advertising and health articles would lead us to believe that all salt is harmful for everyone. Many people think that all salt is alike. This is not true.The problem with salt intake here in the United States has to do with the fact that more than 75 percent of it in the average American’s diet comes from processed foods, like fast food, packaged snacks, convenience foods, and restaurant meals. And the salt that is used in processed foods is also the highly processed variety, not the natural salt your body needs to function. You may not have realized that not all salt is created equal. There is actually a major difference between the standard, refined table and cooking salt most of you are accustomed to using, and natural health-promoting salt.
Common table salt is a cheaper, refined product composed of approximately 98% sodium chloride and 2.5% chemicals like moisture absorbents and iodine. This salt is dried at an extremely high temperature that negatively alters the natural structure of the salt. Essential trace minerals have been refined out of the salt. Also, aluminum is usually added as a drying agent to keep the salt from clumping. A deficiency of trace minerals and the addition of aluminum are both detrimental to one’s health. Aluminum is a toxic metal which is considered by some researchers to be linked with Alzheimer’s disease. It is possible that the benefits from avoiding all salt are due to avoiding the damaging effects of the refined salt used in most food items. You may be surprised to learn that for every gram of sodium chloride that your body cannot get rid of, your body uses 23 times the amount of water to neutralize the salt. Eating common table salt therefore causes excess fluid in your body tissue. Typical table salt crystals are totally isolated from each other. In order for your body to try to metabolize table salt crystals, it must sacrifice tremendous amounts of energy. The average American eats 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium chloride each day (and some of you even eat up to 10,000 mg a day). So this is really a pervasive issue.
One of the most important minerals missing from refined table salt is magnesium. Magnesium is required for over 1000 enzymes in our bodies, and is deficient in most people’s diets. Magnesium is sadly missing from most refined foods. Milling wheat to make white flour removes 85% of the magnesium. Refining sugar cane to make white sugar removes 98% of the magnesium. White flour, white sugar and refined table salt are unfortunately “staples” of the American diet and more and more common in other nations as well. Magnesium has a balancing effect on sodium. Magnesium has a relaxing influence on the heart, which is one reason a shot of magnesium it is often the first “drugs” given during a heart attack.
Natural salt, such as sea salt and other unrefined salts harvested from salt beds, which are obtainable at health food stores, is less refined and does not contain added aluminum compounds. It is a more natural product that is much more healthful than common table salt. We don’t often include salt in the list of common refined, processed food items, as we rightly should. Several brands of natural salt are available at health food stores. Some brands are probably superior to others, but all of them are probably superior to refined table salt. Natural salt is generally a very healthful product. Unrefined sea salt is an important source of minerals.
Ocean salt alone possesses the power to restore wholeness to the human internal seas, our body fluids. Every one of the body’s essential minerals is found in the ocean.
Celtic sea salt is one of the lowest in sodium of all the salts available and one of the richest in precious beneficial elements available in any salt. Once re-dissolved in water or in the moisture of food as it cooks, sea salt bears an amazing likeness to human body fluids. Himalayan sea salts contain 84 minerals. This is especially important today, as the food supply is mineral-deficient due to hybrid crops, modern agriculture methods and food processing and refining. Unrefined salt has little or no effect on blood pressure. It helps maintain electrolyte and osmotic balance. It also has an alkalizing effect on the body and is an extremely yang food in Chinese medical terminology. Sea salt has countless medicinal uses. For example it can help correct excess acidity, restore good digestion, relieve allergies and skin disease, prevent some types of cancer, boost cellular energy and give heightened resistance to infections and bacterial disease. The common IV bag contains salt water. Deficiency of sodium causes other minerals to become unavailable and precipitate into the soft tissues and elsewhere. All the above are very positive reasons to consume natural unrefined salt. Unrefined salt is recommended for all but a very few people who do not tolerate it until their bodies become healthier.
The ways in which the human body needs and uses salt are far too numerous to be covered in one short article. Nevertheless, if we decide that salt is good, we should ideally be choosy about the type of salt that we pick. Natural salt cannot be directly replaced with processed salt. Like many other sources of nutrition, it is the co-action of all the constituent parts that performs the complete function of the food. Unfortunately as in so many areas of food and our health, we have substituted convenience and profit for quality and nutrition. We can reasonably expect that the foods we buy that contain sodium will contain the processed form, so the salt that we add at home should be a minimally processed natural form.