Salt, without it the world would be a lot less tasty. With it, we have high blood pressure, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. How can something be so good and yet so bad? The Bible even mentions salt on 40 different occasions. In Matthew 5:13 we are called the salt of the earth. In Luke 14:34 salt is called good. It has been around since the beginning of time and has been used for a variety of purposes, which leads us to ask…
Is Salt a Real Food?
I believe this is a trick question since the word salt is used to describe the table salt that we consume in over abundance and the natural unrefined sea salt that is full of trace minerals.
Table salt is highly refined and processed. It is stripped of all but two trace minerals and then a synthetic form of iodine is added back in along with dextrose (sugar) to stabilize the iodine. Finally, sodium ferrocyanide is added to prevent the tiny salt grains from sticking to each other. (source) Due to the highly processed nature of table salt and the additives it contains, it is safe to say that table salt is not a real food and is not something we should be consuming.
Unrefined sea salts such as Celtic salt, Real salt, or Himalayan salt are colorful and flavorful and found naturally in nature. These salts contain up to 84 different trace minerals that our bodies need in order to function properly. They are unprocessed, unrefined, and have no additives. Therefore, unrefined sea salt is a real food and is healthy and necessary for us to consume.
But What About Iodine?
The number one reason why people think we need to consume table salt is because it is fortified with iodine. Iodine is a trace element that our bodies need to function properly. When our bodies are deficient in iodine we develop problems with our thyroid and an iodine deficiency can also be responsible for brain damage and learning difficulties in children.
However, before we all start jumping on the synthetic iodine bandwagon, we must ask ourselves why we are all of a sudden becoming deficient in this important mineral? Historically, iodine was a mineral that was in our soil. When we grow fruits and vegetables in mineral rich soil, we grow mineral rich fruits and vegetables. However, conventional farming practices have all but depleted our soils of iodine and other trace minerals. Furthermore, even our drinking water has become deficient in trace minerals.
Despite the depletion of minerals in our soil and water, there are still lots of foods that are high in iodine. The American Thyroid Organization lists many foods that are high in iodine including cheese, cows milk, eggs, frozen yogurt, ice cream (yes!), saltwater fish, sea weed and yogurt. Potatoes and strawberries also contain bio-available iodine.
Another source of iodine is unrefined sea salt. Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? The people at Real Salt have a whole article on the iodine that naturally occurs in unrefined sea salt. Most notably, they write that “the iodine added to salt is at best about 10% bio-available — which means that if you consume 100 micrograms, your body will only be able to use 10 micrograms. Iodine that occurs naturally in food is almost 100% bio-available.” (source)
I believe that if you are healthy and eating real, whole foods and a healthy, balanced diet including unrefined sea salt, then you will not have to be concerned about becoming deficient in iodine.
Our Body Needs Salt
We have established that table salt is not a real food, however, our body does need sodium chloride in the form of unrefined sea salt. Sally Fallon Morell and Thomas S. Cowan M.D. make several important points regarding our need for salt in their new book, The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. They state that our “body needs salt – without salt you can digest neither carbohydrates nor protein. Cellular metabolism depends on the sodium from salt, and salt supports adrenal function.” (p. 29) They go on about the important role salt plays in neurological development. “Sodium activates an enzyme needed for the production of glial cells in the brain – these are the cells that support logical and creative thinking.” (p. 29)
If we want our body to be healthy and to function the way God intended it to function, then we need unrefined salt and we need the 80 plus trace minerals that accompany it. Each of those minerals plays an important role in helping our body to function. Take lithium, for example. Lithium is a trace element in unrefined sea salt and is a necessary element for our body even though it is toxic in large amounts. Psychology Today cites a research study that showed “counties with higher lithium levels in the water had a statistically significant decrease in the incidence of homicide, suicide, arrests for opiates and cocaine, and violent criminal behavior.” (source) Yes, even trace amounts of minerals can affect our mental health, and that’s just one of the over eighty trace minerals our bodies need!
Does Salt Cause Disease?
We’ve all heard it said that too much salt causes hypertension and heart disease. However, some research is suggesting that limiting salt intake is not making us healthier, in fact, it is making us sicker. One study in the American Journal of Medicine showed a 37% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease from people who limited their salt intake below 2300 mg. (source) Another study put out just this year notes that “concerns have been raised that a low sodium intake may adversely affect certain risk factors, including blood lipids and insulin resistance, and thus potentially increase risk of heart disease and stroke.” (source)
So too much salt is bad and too little salt is bad, where do we draw the line? I think the answer to this question is to consume salt in the form that God created it; unrefined. If we stop eating foods that are laden with chemicals and stripped of nutrients, and instead focus on nourishing our bodies with real and whole foods, then we won’t have to worry about salt intake. I once heard it said that we either feed our health or feed our disease. I think this is especially true when it comes to salt.
Where Can I Get Unrefined Salt?
There are several types of salt that you can buy that are unrefined and healthy for us to consume. Celtic sea salt, Himalayan sea salt, and Real Salt mined from an ancient sea bed in Utah are all great options. A rule of thumb is: If the salt is white, don’t eat it. Even if it says ‘sea salt’ or ‘natural’, if it is white then it has been stripped of nutrients. Unrefined salt will range anywhere in color from gray to pink. We use Real Salt and Himalayan salt from Costco that comes in a grinder.
Has your family made the switch to unrefined salts? Have you noticed any health benefits from cutting out table salt? I would love to hear your experience in the comments!