Understanding Salt - Ask a Nutritionist

January 18, 2024

There are many different types of salt available to the average grocery shopper. Iodized salt, unrefined salt, sea salt - what do all of these labels mean, what types are best for your food, and how can it benefit your health? Understanding the varieties of salt available at any grocery store can be overwhelming - and Amy is the nutritionist ready to break it all down for you in this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist.

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AMY: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. I'm Amy Crum, a registered and licensed dietitian. We're thrilled to be celebrating 20 years on air discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel, while sharing practical, real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition.

Thank you for your support and listening over the years. Now, let's dive into today's question. Today's question from one of our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners is, “There are so many salt options out there for my food. Can you tell me which is best and which to avoid?” That's a great question. There are so many different types of salt at the grocery store right now. When I looked up salt on a local grocery store website, there were two full pages of options. So, no wonder it's overwhelming.

Quick answer: what to look for in salt

I'll give you a quick answer first, and then delve more into the why's after that. When you are looking for a salt to add to your food, you want it to be unprocessed and for it to contain minerals like calcium, potassium , magnesium, zinc, and iron. Some of the unrefined salts we like are Redmond's Real Salt, which is a sea salt, and Pink Himalayan Salt.

What is salt?

Now, let's deep dive a little and answer, what is salt? Why do we need it? How much do we need? And what specific types do we recommend? Salt is a mineral made of sodium chloride, and it's essential for life, and it's one of the basic human tastes.

It has lots of properties and uses, and when it comes to eating, we think of using it mainly for food seasoning and preserving. There are a lot of different salts out there: table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, black salts, Florida salt, Celtic salt, Redmond sea salt, and flavored salts, just to name a few.

What causes high blood pressure?

Many people have been cautioned to limit their sodium intake, especially if they have high blood pressure. But oftentimes, if someone has high blood pressure, they don't need to limit their sodium intake if they're eating real foods. In most cases, it's the high carb, high sugar foods that are more likely contributing to high blood pressure.

People often think of the salt they're consuming as what they're adding to their food at the table, or when they're cooking the food. But in reality, the majority of sodium in American diets comes from processed foods. Think potato chips, pizza, fast food restaurants. A study from the NIH found that U.S. adults and adolescents consume 25 percent of their sodium from restaurant foods.

So if you are eating the way Nutritional Weight and Wellness recommends, real food, you likely are not getting a whole lot of extra salt in your diet from those processed foods. In that case, it's fine to add some salt as you're cooking or when you sit down to eat.

How much sodium is recommended?

The amount of sodium you need can vary a lot from person to person, depending on their age, health status, and other factors. For the majority of individuals who are eating real food, there's no reason to limit sodium. And we actually encourage you to salt your food because most real foods are very low in sodium. If you don't think you're getting enough sodium in your diet, I would encourage you to listen to the Ask a Nutritionist podcast that Britni recorded in October titled “All About Electrolytes”.

Avoid processed iodized salt

So, coming back to our question, what's the best salt to use? Well, we prefer to stay away from processed iodized salt. It's the common salt form that most Americans use, and it's found in the majority of salt shakers. The reason we don't recommend it is because there's a lot of processing that goes into making iodized salt, and the minerals that salt naturally contained are removed, and then iodine is added to it.

Also, most iodized salt contains additives, and believe it or not, they do put a little sugar in it, too, to stabilize that iodine. I don't know if you've thought very much about what table salt goes through before it ends up in your salt shaker. But you probably aren't surprised to find there is a lot of processing that happens.

There are a few different methods to process iodized table salt. They include injecting it with an iodine solution or spraying that iodine solution on it, adding stablers and anti-caking agents, and all of this heavy processing takes out those good minerals that are naturally occurring in salt. So, if we recommend avoiding the processed iodized salt, what should you look for?

What salt is recommended?

Earlier, I told you that we were looking for an unrefined salt. So what does that mean? Unrefined salt is an unprocessed salt that comes from natural sources, such as salt deposits in underground mines and ocean water. Unlike refined iodized salt, unrefined salt contains essential nutrients and minerals that are naturally a part of it and have not been removed.

Examples of unrefined salt include Himalayan salt and Redmond's real salt, which is a sea salt. Sea salt comes from evaporated salt water, while Himalayan rock salt is mined from ancient salt deposits in the Himalayan mountain range. The quality of sea salt can vary greatly, so it's important to choose a high quality brand.

We like Redmond's Real Salt. It's an unrefined sea salt that's mined from an ancient seabed in Utah where it's safe from pollutants. In prehistoric times, there was an inland sea covering what is now Redmond, Utah. The sea is no longer there, but in its place is a large underground salt deposit, which is where Redmond's real salt is mined.

That's why even though the salt is found in the ground, it's actually called a sea salt. Redmond's Real Salt contains over 60 trace minerals including calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. And these minerals are essential for good health and can help support proper nutrient absorption, electrolyte balance, and helps eliminate toxins. And it doesn't have artificial additives or pollutants in it.

Pink Himalayan salt comes from Pakistan, about 190 miles from the Himalayas. This region has one of the richest salt fields in the entire world, and they are very old. It comes from salt mines 5,000 feet deep below the Himalayan mountain range. The salt from these mines has experienced pressure over the years and is said to be over 99 percent pure. Pink Himalayan sea salt contains over 84 minerals and trace elements.

Both sea salt and Himalayan salt contain a variety of minerals, which contribute to their unique flavor and color. Sea salt typically contains minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium. And Himalayan salt is known for its high mineral content, including iron, zinc, and trace elements . If you're wondering about the differences in their taste, sea salt has a clean, bright taste with a briny flavor, and that enhances the natural flavors of the food.

Himalayan salt has a more mild flavor with hints of earthiness. Some people describe it as having a slightly sweeter taste compared to sea salt. Sea salt comes in a variety of textures ranging from fine to coarse and even flaky. It can be added to give a little crunch to your dishes when used as a finishing salt.

Himalayan salt is commonly found in larger crystals and is often used in salt grinders or as decorative salt blocks for cooking or serving. Sea salt is usually white or gray, and Himalayan salt has a characteristic pink hue due to the presence of iron oxide.

Should I choose sea salt or Himalayan salt?

Ultimately, the choice between sea salt and Himalayan salt comes down to personal preference and what you're planning to use it for. We mentioned earlier that the table salt that is commonly used has iodine added to it. The reason table salt is iodized is that in the 1920s, the U.S. started adding iodine to salt because people weren't eating enough iodine in their diet, and it was causing people to have goiters.

If you're eating a diet that consists of real, whole food, you can usually get your iodine from the food you eat. Unprocessed salts like Redmond's Real Salt and Pink Himalayan Salt don't contain iodine because it's not naturally found in them. Iodine is an essential nutrient that's important for thyroid function and helps control your body's metabolism.

Where should we be getting iodine from?

So you want to make sure you're getting enough iodine in your diet. It's hard to determine precisely how much iodized salt contributes to an individual's iodine levels. The recommended daily intake of iodine for adults can be obtained from about one half to three quarters of a teaspoon of table salt.

Testing of the general American population has shown most Americans do consume sufficient levels of iodine through their diets. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are the only groups in the U.S. that are advised to take a daily iodine supplement, and that's usually a part of a prenatal vitamin .

So, if you aren't getting iodine from your salt, where should you get it? Iodine is found in a variety of foods, but some of the best food sources of iodine include seaweed, like kelp, nori, kombu; seaweed snacks are more common now. And that could be a great way to add in some iodine in your diet. Chef Marianne has suggested that if someone is looking to add iodine to their diet, sprinkle kelp granules onto a dish.

It has a salty flavor with a touch of seaweed. Other sources of iodine are fish and other seafood like cod, tuna, oysters, shrimp, and snapper, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, eggs, and prunes. It's recommended to consume a variety of iodine rich foods to ensure you get enough iodine in your day.

If you listen to that list of foods high in iodine and thought I don't eat any of those and I'm not interested in adding any of those to my diet, it might be a good idea to fill your salt shaker with a mix of half iodized salt and half sea salt or pink Himalayan salt to make sure you're getting enough iodine. Or just rotate between the iodized salt and the unprocessed salt when you're cooking.

I hope from today's podcast, you saw that there are a lot of reasons to make sure we are getting enough salt every day including getting enough essential minerals, balancing our electrolytes, supporting nutrient absorption, eliminating toxins, normalizing blood pressure, increasing circulation, and reducing the risk of dehydration.

We recommend that when you are choosing a salt to cook. or to add to the table to choose an unrefined salt that contains health promoting trace minerals like a pink Himalayan salt or Redmond's Real Salt as a healthier alternative to the more processed iodized table salt.

Thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist”. And if you have a nutrition question you'd like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching for Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook.

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