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Sea Salt vs. Table Salt

Okay, now for a little controversy.

Is sea salt a healthier option than table salt?

You might be surprised to hear this, but no. It is not. And that’s because sea salt and table salt have the same chemical composition. They are both composed almost 100% of two elements: sodium, and chloride. They are both approximately 40% sodium by weight.

True, there are trace amounts of certain minerals in sea salt, like potassium and magnesium–but the levels are practically undetectable. And there is no evidence that these amounts will have any impact on your health.

There are other differences, however. For starters, sea salt and table salt are manufactured differently. Table salt is mined from dried-up ancient salt lakes, whereas sea salt is made from evaporated ocean water. Table salt typically has iodine added–an essential nutrient that prevents goiter–enlargement of your thyroid.

The other main difference is in the taste and texture. We all love the taste of sea salt, right? Big, chunky crystals–and the different colours and textures of the many varieties of sea salt can give subtle and interesting flavors to food. Making sea salt much beloved by chefs and foodies alike.

But just to be clear, equivalent amounts of sea salt and table salt will give you the exact same sodium intake. And it’s sodium that’s relevant for your health. Specifically, as it relates to your blood pressure.

Now–the health effect of salt, itself, is not without controversy. The dangers of sodium are not so clear cut, in my book. If you’re not afraid of a little debate, you can read my post about salt right here.

But, whether you fill your shaker with sea salt or the table variety, the much greater evil than a little shaken salt on your food is the hidden sodium in processed food. This is where most of our sodium comes from, this is where things can get out of hand, and this is where you need to direct your energies. More than 75 percent of the sodium in our diet comes packaged/processed/convenience foods, and restaurant meals.

Which is one more reason why it’s a good idea to stick to real food. Whole food. The kind you find in a Mediterranean diet, for example. The kind in the Anti-Inflammatory diet, as another example.  

When it comes to salt, I think a lot of people who love the taste (count me as one of those) can fool themselves into thinking they’ve made a healthier choice by opting for sea salt. Don’t make that mistake.

Salt and Health…Maybe Not So Evil?

I like salt.

Okay. There it is.

Fact is, I can’t stand bland food. I’m always sneaking extra salt into things. I once heard a professional chef say that the difference between a good meal and a great meal is a box of salt. And, admittedly, I subscribe to that line of thought.

This is a big *gasp*, right? How dare I call myself a doctor, right? I might as well take up smoking. Right??

Well, let’s see.

Recently, the evidence on salt has become controversial. Big time.

This guy here is one of the outspoken ones, fearlessly flying in the face of all the conventional nutrition wisdom. Also an MD. And he backs his thoughts up with research.

Because there is, indeed, recent research that is calling into question our long-held beliefs about salt.

Here, the New York Times discusses a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed an association between salt restriction and an increased risk of death from heart attacks and stroke. It also found that cutting salt didn’t even reduce blood pressure. The study had some flaws (as most studies do, in one way or another) but it was intriguing, nonetheless.

In July 2011, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews published a thorough analysis of all studies that looked at salt restriction and mortality or heart disease. And they failed to show strong evidence of any effect of salt reduction.

So…all this time, we’ve been laboring under the belief that reducing salt reduces heart disease…but there’s insufficient evidence to support that belief?

Well, not so fast. Failure to show an effect does not mean absence of effect. It may be there, we just haven’t proven it yet. I guess the bottom line, here, is that there is no bottom line. I don’t think we have enough evidence for or against salt intake. Which is surprising, given the vigor of mainstream nutrition advice to “cut the salt”. Dogma? Maybe so. 

So what’s my advice on this?

For some people, it’s an easy answer: Got hypertension? Got congestive heart failure? Cut the salt.

For the rest? Well, it’s a little more gray. I’m hoping it’s something that all those hardworking scientists, busy in their labs, will sort out for us. Soon, preferably. I may very well be proven wrong, here, for not having a zero-tolerance policy on sodium. In which case, I’ll have to change my tune. 

But in the meantime, here’s what I would suggest: monitor your BP regularly. Eat well. Limit excess sodium but don’t feel you have to be a salt nazi. The best way to keep your salt intake reasonable? Avoid processed, pre-packaged food. Eat whole, real food. Because it’s not so much the dinner-table salt shaker that causes our daily sodium to skyrocket–it’s more the hidden salt in soup cans and frozen dinners that’s the real culprit.

Like this Wicked Healthy thinking? Read these next:

Healthy Reading This Week

Pour yourself a mug of tea, sit & relax and check out some of the interesting things I’ve been reading this week:

Salt, Not So Bad For You After All? Great food for thought, highlighting the recent research that shakes up the conventional thinking that salt is a no-no for us all. (from Huffington Post Health/AOL Healthy Living)

Mistakes Made in the Bedroom: Why You Wake Up Exhausted A nice, succinct article on how to get better sleep. Must admit, I’m not convinced about the first tip, though. (from FitSugar)

The Secret to Walking Off Belly Fat Some really easy ways to get the most out of your walking regimen–and no, it does not include carrying little hand-weights a la 1986. (from Shine)

Being Optimistic May Reduce Risk of Stroke Fabulous new research throwing even more light on the happiness movement. (from WebMD)

Doctor On ‘TODAY’ Show Slams Mommyrexia As Part Of Perfectionist Culture Imposed On Mothers A discussion prompted by Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s thoughts on a disturbing trend. (from Mommyish)

The Body Positive: How Author Dayna Macy Got Out Of A Size 18 And Into A Healthy Relationship With Food More on the complicated (and fascinating) topic of body image, weight loss, and emotional health. (from Blisstree)

 

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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