What Kind of Salt is Healthiest?

Should you spend more for natural gourmet salt?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
6-minute read
Episode #95

When shopping for salt, you’ve got lots of options. You can buy sea salt or regular salt, finely textured or coarse; it might be white, grey, or pink; it may be kosher or iodized. Today, I’d like to talk about the differences between the different types of salt and whether any of these offer any nutritional advantages.

What’s the Difference Between Regular and Sea Salt? 

Regular table salt may come from rock salt, a natural salt deposit in the earth, or from evaporated sea water. When it’s labeled sea salt, you know it came from sea water. Once both types have been cleaned up and purified, there’s really no chemical or nutritional difference between the two. If you were to dissolve sea salt in water, it would be virtually indistinguishable from regular table salt.

The biggest difference is that sea salt can be processed in a way that produces larger crystals. The size of the crystal makes a difference in how you perceive the salt that you put on your food. Larger crystals sprinkled on a dish give a concentrated burst of saltiness and a little crunch that many people enjoy.

Sea salt can also be processed into fine crystals, just like regular table salt. Whenever you have a fine-grained salt, an anti-caking agent is usually added. These additives are harmless and keep you from having to chip the salt out of a solid block every time you use it.

Should You Buy Iodized Salt?

You can buy both regular and sea salt with or without added iodine. Iodine is a nutrient that, among other things, helps prevent mental retardation. It’s also being studied as a possible issue in ADHD.  Iodine deficiency used to be fairly common—and in third world countries, it still is. Iodized salt was proposed as an easy way to prevent iodine deficiency—and, for the most part, it has worked pretty well.

Some people don’t like iodized salt because they feel iodine adds a noticeable flavor. Others just want to keep their salt closer to nature. If you prefer not to use iodized salt, you can also get iodine in seafood and edible seaweeds. Vegetables can be a source of iodine, depending on the iodine content of the soil in which it they’re grown.  And many dairy farmers add iodine to the feed for the cows, so dairy products can be a good source of iodine. Even if you don’t use iodized salt at home, a lot of processed and prepared foods are made with iodized salt. If these foods are in your diet, they are likely to be an additional source of iodine. Many multivitamins also include iodine.

But what if you don’t use iodized salt, you never eat packaged or prepared foods, and you’re a vegan, so you don’t eat fish or dairy, and you don’t take a multivitamin. Are you at risk of iodine deficiency? Theoretically, you could be. The most common sign of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, or swelling of the neck. It usually reverses when iodine is added to the diet. If you have any reason to suspect iodine deficiency, check with your doctor, just to be sure.

What is Kosher Salt?

When sprinkling salt on top of a finished dish, you may find that using kosher salt gives you more flavor with less salt. For salt added during cooking, it won’t make any difference.

Chemically speaking, kosher salt is identical to table and sea salt—and has the same amount of sodium by weight. It is never iodized but may have anti-caking agents added. 

The big difference is the size and shape of the crystal. They are larger and flatter, as if you took a medium-coarse grain of salt and put it through a roller.

As with sea salt, the size and shape of the crystal make a difference in how you perceive the saltiness. Because of the increased surface area of kosher salt crystals, they dissolve more readily on your tongue. For salt added during cooking, this wouldn’t make any difference. But when sprinkling salt on top of a finished dish, you may find that using kosher salt gives you more flavor with less salt.

Along the same lines, Frito-Lay is working on reshaping the salt crystals that they sprinkle onto their potato chips in order to be able to reduce the sodium without making them taste any less salty.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.