If you search “salt and health” or “salt risks” online you will be hit with a slew of demonizing headlines that would make anyone thinks twice before consuming it ever again. The rhetoric around salt right now is often associated with high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, kidney stones, and a variety of other serious issues. Foods advertise themselves as low or reduced-sodium to catch the conscious shopper’s eye. Essentially, salt has been labeled as our enemy.
But why is salt getting such a bad rap?
By definition, salt is simply a naturally occurring compound that we often use to increase flavor in food. Our bodies can’t function without some sodium (salt is a combination of sodium and chloride). It’s needed to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers, and maintain a proper fluid balance.
Fearing salt is rooted in more than a simple sprinkle on top of your food.
Salt has played a crucial role in food preparation for thousands of years. According to Dr. Steven Lin, salt is a natural remedy for anyone with gum disease, infections, and can soothe tissue inflammation. Research has even shown that the notion a low salt diet is better for us was founded on some seriously flawed science. A meta-analysis of over 6,250 patients found there was no actual link between salt intake, high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease.
Like many dietary beliefs, our understanding of salt needs to be reexamined.
All Salt Is Created Equal…Mostly
A lot of people don’t realize that there are many different kinds of salt. They are often lumped together and used interchangeably.
Table salt is the standard, most often found in grocery stores and little foodservice packets at restaurants. Kosher salt is a coarse-grained salt that has larger crystals and a lighter taste. Some prefer kosher salt because it is free of additives where table salt has iodine to prevent goiter. Sea salt is produced by evaporating seawater, and there are a lot of different flavor varieties depending on the region it comes from. This is the category for more trendy salts like the beautiful Himalayan salt (more on that below) and expensive fleur de sel which can cost upwards of $30 per pound.
The real source of our anti-salt association comes from packaged and highly-processed foods. Like sugar, which is naturally occurring in fruits, salt comes in many forms and can be very beneficial in modest amounts. Most people who are eating more than the recommended amount of daily salt intake are probably getting it in highly unhealthy forms.
There’s a huge difference between eating a McDonald’s breakfast with hotcakes which already takes up 87% of the sodium recommended daily allowance for the average adult by the American Heart Association and garnishing a salad with sea salt.
Everything comes down to understanding where your salt is coming from and consuming it at reasonably healthy levels.
Why Are People So Obsessed With Pink Salt?
“The story of pink salt coming out of the mountains and being mined from these ancient seabeds is romantic.”
I remember the first time I came across Himalayan salt.
A coworker was using it to gently sprinkle pink flakes on top of her lunch. As someone who is naturally curious about the latest health products, I started looking for it on the shelves until I found some at Trader Joes. While it carried a nice hue, there was not a noticeable difference between this and classic white table salt. But suddenly, pink salt was everywhere.
It’s in lamps, beauty products, home decor, bath scrubs, artisanal gifts packages, and anything that can be enlightened with some additional pink flakes. But pink salt has joined the category of turmeric and matcha- ingredients long used in countries around the world but only recently appropriated in the United States for their near-magical properties.
Himalayan salt vs table salt: Is there really a difference?
The draw to Himalayan salt obviously starts with the aesthetic that it brings to the table. It looks great on Instagram (#pinksalt currently has over 90,000 posts) and is endorsed by wellness influencers. But there’s a reason that it hasn’t made waves in the restaurant community. Himalayan salt is expensive and claims that the product carries extra trace minerals leading to any sort of health benefits are somewhat fictitious.
The amounts of these minerals in pink Himalayan salt is so small that it would take 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg) of pink Himalayan salt to obtain the recommended daily amount of potassium.
Himalayan salts status as a mystical product is mostly rooted in looks and a different flavor profile.
Too much of anything is bad for us (even water can be dangerous in excessive amounts). The truth is that a balanced diet is the way to go — and that can include some added salt.
Ultimately, be mindful when consuming foods with a lot of sodium and try to maintain your salt intake by adding it yourself to natural products.
Salt usually isn’t the enemy. Start blaming the food you put it on instead.
This article first appeared on Medium.