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What Kind of Salt is Healthiest?

Should you spend more for natural gourmet salt?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #095

What Are Gourmet Salts?

Sea water contains more than just sodium chloride, of course. Other trace minerals may also be dissolved in it and fine particles of clay may be suspended in it. These impurities are filtered out of kosher and table salt. If you don’t filter them out, those sediments and minerals will affect the appearance and flavor of the finished salt. In fact, the “impurities” found in the sea water of some regions of the world are especially prized.

Foodies have been going on an on about these fancy salts for a while now. You can buy pink, gray, green, and lavender salts from exotic locales around the world. Perhaps your palate is sensitive enough to detect the subtle fragrance of volcanic clay or French dust. Even if it’s not, it sure is fun to have multi-colored salt. (Not to mention, fashionable.) And, because they’re not as pure, unrefined sea salts are sometimes a bit lower in sodium than regular table salt.

But some companies are now claiming that the extra minerals actually make unrefined salts from the Himalayas or the Celtic Sea super nutritious. Frankly, you need to take these claims with a grain of, well, salt.

Are Gourmet Salts Healthier?

These salts do contain trace amounts of various minerals, like potassium and magnesium, as well things like strontium, fluoride and cadmium… more or less what you might get from chewing on a spoonful of dirt. There’s also the chance that you’re getting minerals you don’t really want, like mercury or arsenic.

However, we’re talking about amounts that are measured in parts per million or fractions of a percent. That might be enough to affect the color or the flavor (hopefully in a good way) but it’s not enough to offer any meaningful nutritional benefits—at least, not without consuming way too much salt! And there’s really no substantiation for the claims that these tiny amounts of minerals are somehow more usable or powerful because they are in some sort of energetically-charged form or harmonically-balanced proportions. That’s just snake-oil talk, folks.                                            

If you like the colors and flavor of these exotic sea salts and you’ve got the budget for it, have a good time. But it would be hard to justify the cost based solely on the nutritional benefits.

Should You Use Salt Alternatives?

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about how people need to reduce the amount of salt they consume. Using kosher or sea salt might save you a few milligrams of sodium here and there. But, as I discussed in a previous article, most people are consuming one and a half to two times the recommended amount of sodium. So, you might be wondering whether a sodium-free salt alternatives is a good idea.  These are made with potassium chloride, a mineral salt formed from potassium instead of sodium. Potassium chloride tastes salty, but can have a bitter or metallic aftertaste.

If you don’t mind the taste, you can replace some or all of the table salt in your recipes or salt shaker with a low-sodium salt alternative. But keep in mind that 70 to 80% of sodium comes from packaged and prepared foods, including restaurant food. If you eat out a lot or you eat a lot of processed foods—things like canned soups, sauces, and vegetables, frozen dinners, deli meats, boxed meal kits, chips, snacks, and crackers— replacing the salt in your salt shaker with potassium chloride is sort of like standing out in a driving rain storm and holding an umbrella over one knee. 

If you’re concerned about your sodium intake, start by cutting back on packaged and processed foods—which is where most of the sodium in your diet is coming from. If you do most of your own cooking using fresh whole foods, you’re probably well within the recommended limits for sodium intake. If your doctor has put you on a very low-sodium diet, of course, you may need to be even more vigilant. (And this is a good time to remind you that these tips should never take the place of medical advice from your own health care practitioner.)

In this week’s newsletter, I’ve included more tips on how to cut down on sodium. There’s also a discussion thread on salt and sodium on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page, where other readers are sharing their favorite salt-sparing tips.  For more Nutrition Diva, or to share a question or comment, you can also find me on Twitter.

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All About Salt

Salt image courtesy of Shutterstock

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