CONCERNS ABOUT HEALTH AND SALT USE HAVE FUELED SALE OF SEA SALTS, BUT ARE THEY REALLY DIFFERENT?
This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.
It’s hard to talk about health and salt in the same sentence, but every once in a while something comes along that forces the issue. This time it’s sea salts. The pitch being made by promoters is that sea salt contains all of the other minerals found in sea water, while regular table salt is processed to remove them. They claim those minerals are what make sea salt a healthy salt.
This is the point where I say, “Show me the evidence.”
What Makes Sea Salts Different?
All salt comes from the sea, so technically, it’s all sea salt. Some is evaporated from today’s oceans and salt water lakes, some is mined from deposits left from evaporated sea beds that are thousands of years old. When first collected the salt contains a variety of minerals, such as sulfate, magnesium, calcium and potassium.
Table salt is processed to remove the trace minerals and environmental impurities to create a product that has a consistent composition, size and taste. Anti-clumping agents are added to many commercial brands so the salt flows freely. Iodine may also be added to provide a needed source of this essential mineral.
The first thing you’ll notice about see sea salt is that is isn’t always snow white. The color comes from the impurities that remain in it, like clay and volcanic ash, and the trace minerals. The next visual difference is the size of the crystals. They’re much larger than table salt, more like kosher salt, so don’t expect them to come out of a standard salt shaker.
If you put a few crystals on the tip of your tongue, you’ll find they don’t dissolve instantly. When they do, the taste may be milder or stronger than table salt, depending on the variety you’re sampling. Professional chefs say sea salts provide a fresher flavor to the foods they are added to, but you may not notice the difference.
Now for the big difference: Price. Sea salts cost anywhere from 2 to 10 times more that common table salt!
Do Trace Minerals Make Sea Salt a Healthy Salt?
All of the other minerals found in sea salt are necessary for good health, but there are not enough of them in a teaspoon of sea salt to make it a useful source. And there are plenty of other ways to get those minerals, specifically from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low fat dairy products — all foods we need to eat more of.
The most abundant mineral in sea salt is sodium. In fact, sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt, and that’s the problem. Dietary guidelines recommend reducing sodium consumption to lower blood pressure and risk for stroke. Sea salt offers no advantage over table salt when it comes to lowering sodium intake.
To see whether people might use less sea salt than table salt due to the texture and taste differences, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada designed a study to measure that. They published their findings in Food Research International and reported subjects did not use any less. Their conclusion was sea salt was not a viable option for reducing sodium in the diet.
What this means for anyone looking for a way to enjoy good health and salt is this: Use less salt no matter how much you pay for it!