Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Salt is Salt is Salt....or is it?

Another quote about salt jumped out at me while reading Time magazine this week. “18 billion – estimated health-care savings if Americans cut their average daily sodium intake to 2300 mg per day, according to a new Rand study.” It seems like you can’t open a newspaper any more without hearing more bad news about salt. What’s a person to do? All animals naturally crave and need salt. This morning I replaced my horses’ salt block with a new and improved carrot-flavored salt block to the tune of $4.95 ($3 more than the ordinary block I usually buy). Somehow I succumbed to marketing and purchased a carrot flavored salt block for my little beasties. Did they need a carrot colored, carrot smelling, supposedly carrot-flavored (but who is going to verify this? Not me. I’m sure I could prevail upon my 7 year-old with the great sense of adventure, but I won’t) block? Seems kind of hypocritical of me, huh? Here I am, constantly ranting about added artificial colors and flavors and over-marketing of products, and last week in the feed store in a moment of weakness, I caved to the new salt block. It just looked kind of cool. Now, just like the rest of us Americans, my horses will probably eat too much salt for the next few months.

We didn’t always eat too much salt. Over time our diet has changed. We’ve become a nation that eats primarily processed food, fast food, and convenience foods loaded with fat, sugar, and way more salt than we need. Most people used to eat more real food – food they grew, prepared, and cooked. But then along came the carrot-flavored salt block companies. And just like me in the feed store last week, we couldn’t resist. It’s easier! More convenient! Tastes great! Looks kind of cool! Processed foods are loaded with sodium. If you don’t believe me, just read a label. Try reading the kid favorite – Kraft macaroni and cheese. I don’t have a box here, but the organic version has 570mg per 1 cup serving! Another case of just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Salt is not all bad. I, personally, overuse salt on a regular basis. I load it on my eggs, popcorn, and vegetables. My husband cringes when he sees me do it. But our bodies do need salt. Every individual is different and some need more than others, while some people are oversensitive to it. Salt helps to regulate our blood pressure and assist with muscle and nerve function. But too much salt can contribute to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

So, what’s a salt-loving person to do? Use the good stuff. Even though my father, the chemical engineer, will disagree with me (sorry dad!), all salts are not the same. Maybe they are chemically identical at their core, but where and how they are harvested makes a difference. Your typical table salt is refined. To keep it dry, refiners add several additives, including aluminum compound. To replace the natural iodine salts that are removed during processing, potassium iodide is added. To stabilize the volatile iodide compound, processors add dextrose which turns the iodized salt a purplish color. Of course, the next step is to add a bleaching agent to make the salt white again. So, like I said, all salts are not the same. Refined salt is created through chemical and high-temperature industrial processes that remove valuable magnesium salts as well as trace minerals that naturally occur in the sea.

Sea salt, on the other hand, contains traces of marine life that provide natural organic forms of iodine so there’s no need for iodizing it (or stabilizing it or bleaching it). Reading about Celtic sea salt in the book Nourishing Traditions (Sally Fallon), I found this interesting tidbit: “Some researchers claim that this form of iodine remains in the bodily fluids for many weeks, whereas the iodine released from iodidized salts passes through very quickly. This may be why the late physician Henry Bieler found evidence of sodium starvation in the tissues of people who consumed large amounts of refined salt.”

The purest form of commercially available unrefined sea salt comes from the salt marshes of Brittany (off the coast of France). This salt is usually labeled “Celtic sea salt”. Celtic sea salt is “farmed” according to ancient methods. It is hand-harvested and dried by the sun and wind. It contains no anti-caking agents, bleaching agents, or additives. This is good and bad. Good – it tastes amazing. I promise you will notice the difference. Bad – Some regular salt shakers can’t be used with Celtic sea salt as the salt crystals are a little bit bigger because they aren’t so refined. You can buy Celtic sea salt in its own shaker with larger holes – that’s what I do. But it does mean I can’t use my cute little salt and pepper shaker sets which I love. My grandmother collected salt and pepper shakers and I always loved to look at her collection. Maybe that’s where I got the affinity. Now, they are only pepper shakers because I know too much to go back to the pretty white iodized salt that fits in the salt shakers. Celtic sea salt is also grayish in color, but don’t let that scare ya. The gray color comes from the pure clay lining of the salt beds where Celtic sea salt is harvested.

You can find Celtic Sea Salt in the grocery store and it’s a little more pricey than regular salt. Once again, we pay a premium to protect our health. I believe it is worth it. The news is filled with the dangers of too much salt. So, if you’re going to flirt with danger, at least use the good stuff. Pick a salt that is as good as it can be for your health and your taste buds. But if you really want to do your health and your sodium intake a favor, cut out the processed foods – your health and your waistline will thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I was not aware of some of the info about salt!