Our body needs all the nutrients in specific doses. If we have too much or too little it is a problem. One of the nutrients we should all watch out is the sodium, especially consumption of salt as its main source. But in addition to looking at how much we eat we should also pay attention to what salt we eat.
We are not sure how bad the salt is
Salt was labelled as “very bad” after many studies showed that there is a relationship between high sodium intake, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. However, we can easily question this relationship. A systematic review considered as the highest source of evidence shows that reduced consumption of salt does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.1 Furthermore, in Belgium, a population study has revealed that the risk of cardiovascular diseases is statistically higher in people who consume less sodium.2 So, where exactly is the problem?
Good or bad
This inconsistency in evidence could be affected by many factors. However, one problem might be in the type of salt we consume. It is difficult to advocate a “good” salt because there are no studies that would compare a risk of cardiovascular diseases among those consuming refined and unrefined salt. But the following information can help you make up your mind even without further research evidence.
Refined and unrefined
Surveys have shown that consumers prefer white and loose salt. Therefore, refined salt is bleached to be white and processed. A processing ensures that salt does not bulk and stay for long on the shelf. However, natural unrefined salt is never perfectly white and its colour depends on the other minerals present. Secondly, natural salt usually bulks due to moisture.
Minerals in salt
Salt is not just NaCl. It has a specific 3D structure. By processing, refined salt loses not only the natural structure but also loses other minerals. In contrast, the structure of unrefined salt is unchanged, and it contains several minerals. A common argument against unrefined salt is that the content of these minerals is so negligible that they do not have any nutritional value. This, however, is a big misunderstanding. Nature is perfect and everything in it has its purpose. So, although other minerals can be of little nutritional value, they are there to balance the effect of sodium. For example, if potassium or magnesium is present in the salt, sodium does not increase blood pressure!
What refined salt contains
To prevent bulking the producers use debulking agents. The most common one is called potassium ferrocyanide – E535. However, when you read the label on table salt, you only see E535. If you read “cyanide” it might discourage you from buying it, right? Defenders of this substance argue that it is a very solid compound that does not change to cyanide in the body. The daily non-damaging dose is 0-0.025 mg per kg body weight.3 But potassium ferrocyanide reacts in combination with acids and changes to hydrogen cyanide, a toxic gas.
The question is whether this could happen inside our body or not. In addition to E535, producers use compounds such as E554 – sodium aluminosilicate, E552 – calcium silicate, or E342 – ammonium phosphate. We do not know how these small doses affect body over the prolonged time of regular consumption. At the same time, we clearly burden the liver and kidney to detoxify the body from these chemicals.
So, we not only chemically whiten and process the salt which causes it to lose its structure and minerals, but we also add to it other compounds that the body does not need. And just reminding you that this is what we should consume on daily basis! How does it affect our health in the long run?
How to choose the best
Tip # 1
Choose unrefined salt.
Tip # 2
If salt is sea or Himalayan, it does not mean it is better than table salt. It can be chemically modified. Therefore, read properly the description of the product and look for the country of origin, the place of extraction and the way of processing.
Tip # 3
When buying salt, look if it contains one of debulking agents such as E535 and think twice whether you really want to consume it regularly.
Tip # 4
The trace minerals provide unrefined salt with a specific colour. But be aware of the products that are stained and in fact have nothing in common with unrefined natural salt. Unfortunately, nowadays, every person should be an inspector when doing food shopping.
Tip # 5
Advocates of refined (table) salt always argue that sea salt does not contain iodine but in contrast, iodine is added to table salt. This is probably the only benefit of table salt. But iodine can be added to the diet by eating fish, quality dairy products and vegetables in natural form. Alternatively, unrefined iodine-enriched sea salt may be purchased, or for example, the Himalayan salt contains iodine naturally.
I dare to say that the negative effect of salt is linked with the way the salt is processed, with depletion of trace elements and the addition of chemicals that do not benefit the body when regularly consumed.
We need sodium. It is an essential element involved in many processes of the body. It is necessary for proper functioning of the digestive, circulatory, nervous system and muscles. A good salt containing sodium in combination with other minerals might have a different effect on our health. If you do not consume lots of ready meals, pre-prepared meals, snacks, and smoked foods, which contain a large amount of salt, you can sprinkle salt over your meal without regret. However, as it is with everything, we should consume salt in moderation.
- Taylor RS et al. Reduced dietarysaltfor the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Cochrane review). Am J Hypertens. 2011;24(8):843-53.
- Stolarz-Skrzypek K et al. Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodiumexcretion. JAMA.2011;305(17):1777-85.
- 3. “Toxicological evaluation of some food additives including anticaking agents, antimicrobials, antioxidants, emulsifiers and thickening agents”. World Health Organization, Geneva. 1974. Retrieved 18 May2009.