Foodprints Nutrition

Why Sea Salt is Good for You (And Refined Salt is Not)

Why Sea Salt is Good for You {and Refined Salt is Not}

Salt has earned a bad reputation in recent years, so it may comes as a surprise to hear this ancient seasoning, consumed in moderation, is actually crucial for good health.

Humans are made up of about 72% water and 28% mineral salts and organic material (like bacteria, proteins and fatty acids.) As such, there are two “oceans” of water in the body. One ocean is held inside the cells of our bodies, and the other ocean is the sea of fluid existing outside of our cells.

Your good health depends on a delicate balance between the volume of these two bodies of water, and this balance is achieved by salt—natural, unrefined mineral salts.

A Grain of Salt

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The differences between refined, processed salt (also known as “table salt”) and unrefined natural salt are as great as the differences between white sugar and freshly cut sugar cane. These differences can have a major impact on staying healthy, avoiding potentially toxic additives, and increasing your risk of diseases you want to avoid.

The typical modern, refined table salt can be compared to refined sugar and refined flour—it used to be a healthful, whole food, but our industrial food system has stripped and processed it into a disaster waiting to happen.

Like most factory-made, food-like products Westerners eat today, what began as an essential nutrient has been disfigured into a detriment to our health.

Major salt producing companies mine unpalatable and impure rock salt from the earth, then dry it in huge, fossil-fuel-guzzling kilns with temperatures reaching 1200 degrees F. This changes the salt’s chemical structure into pure sodium chloride, which is very different from natural salt which contains lots of trace minerals.

In other words, sea salt and table salt share the same amount of sodium chloride, but only sea salt retains the trace elements found in saline water. These trace minerals matter not only to taste, but to health as well.

After this extremely energy-intensive process that strips the trace nutrients out, they then put in additives like fluoride (!), synthetic iodine, as well as anti-caking agents. These anti-caking agents include:

  • E341 Tricalcium Phosphate
  • E500 Sodium bicarbonate
  • E535 Sodium ferrocyanide
  • E536 Potassium ferrocyanide
  • E538 Calcium ferrocyanide
  • E542 Bone phosphate
  • E550 Sodium silicate
  • E551 Silicon dioxide
  • E552 Calcium silicate
  • E553a Magnesium trisilicate
  • E553b Talcum powder
  • E554 Sodium aluminosilicate
  • E555 Potassium aluminium silicate
  • E556 Calcium aluminosilicate
  • E558 Bentonite
  • E559 Aluminium silicate
  • E570 Stearic acid
  • E900 Polydimethylsiloxane

The most commonly used anti-caking agent is E554 sodium aluminosilicate which comes with possible side effects such as constipation, along with many precautions if you have liver or kidney disease. Aluminum derivatives have also been implicated in a number of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

All these additives can cause discoloration in refined salt, so bleaching agents are then used to restore the desirable white color.

It should be noted that additives like anti-caking agents are forbidden in organic food production. Although no salt has been certified organic, refined, processed salt would never make the cut.

So to summarize, refined table salt has been stripped of all its natural trace minerals, and now contains synthetic iodine, fluoride, anti-caking food additives, and bleaching residues. What was a natural, whole food has been processed into a highly industrial, pseudo-food Americans have come to think of as “salt” that causes the potential for a myriad of health problems.

If you value a whole food, pure diet, and avoid processed food and industrial food additives as a general rule, why choose a processed, additive-laden salt?

According to Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life, it is refined, processed and bleached salts that are the problem. Salt is critical to our health and is the most readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. But our bodies are not designed to processed refined sodium chloride with synthetic additives since it has no nutritional value.

In fact, refined table salt has been implicated as a cause of the Western epidemic of autoimmune disease!

Salt of the Earth

Natural, unrefined “whole” salt (whether from the sea or from ancient sea beds) is better than processed, refined salt, by a wide margin. In contrast to refined table salt, most sea salt is naturally harvested and dried in the sun, and contains a wealth of trace minerals and electrolytes that are easily assimilated by your body. Salt from ancient sea beds is mined, but you can find brands that are minimally processed and still contain the trace minerals present in ancient sea water.

Unlike refined salt which contains only 2 or 3 elements, natural whole salt contains about 80 mineral elements (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and more) that are essential in very small amounts for a variety of functions in the body.

These mineral salts and electrolytes are key players in enzyme production as well as immune system, adrenal and thyroid function. And while, compared to food, natural salt is not a major source of minerals, like any whole food, sea salt has a natural balance and a lack of toxic additives, so we are actually nourished by it, rather than depleted.

According to Dr. F. Batmanghelidj in his book, Water: For Health, for Healing, for Life:

  • Salt is most effective in stabilizing irregular heartbeats and, contrary to the misconception that it causes high blood pressure, it is actually essential for the regulation of blood pressure—in conjunction with water. Naturally, the proportions are critical.
  • Salt is vital to the extraction of excess acidity from the cells in the body, particularly the brain cells.
  • Salt is vital for balancing the sugar levels in the blood; a needed element in diabetics.
  • Salt is vital for the generation of hydroelectric energy in cells in the body. It is used for local power generation at the sites of energy need by the cells.
  • Salt is vital for absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract.
  • Salt is vital for the clearance of the lungs of mucus plugs and sticky phlegm, particularly in asthma and cystic fibrosis.
  • Salt is vital for clearing up congestion of the sinuses.
  • Salt is a strong natural antihistamine.
  • Salt is essential for the prevention of muscle cramps.
  • Salt is vital to prevent excess saliva production to the point that it flows out of the mouth during sleep. Needing to constantly mop up excess saliva indicates salt shortage.
  • Salt is absolutely vital to making the structure of bones firm. Osteoporosis, in a major way, is a result of salt and water shortage in the body.
  • Salt is vital for sleep regulation. It is a natural hypnotic.
  • Salt on the tongue will stop persistent dry coughs.
  • Salt is vital for the prevention of gout and gouty arthritis.
  • Salt is vital for maintaining sexuality and libido.
  • Salt is vital for preventing varicose veins and spider veins on the legs and thighs.
  • Salt is vital to the communication and information processing of nerve cells the entire time that the brain cells work—from the moment of conception to death.

However, not just any salt will do. It is processed and bleached salts that are the problem. However, when a salt is filled with dozens of minerals such as in the rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt or the grey texture of Celtic sea salt, our bodies can benefit tremendously for their incorporation into our diet.

According to Dr Hendel,

“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated. We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”

“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance pH levels in the body.”

“Mineral salts are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognized in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.”

The Salt Hypothesis is Bunk

For 4,000 years, we have known that salt intake can affect blood pressure. We also know that a very small minority of the population can lower blood pressure a bit by restricting dietary salt. And we know that elevated blood pressure, “hypertension,” is a well-documented risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. We also know that reducing high blood pressure can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke–depending on how it’s done.

Some have suggested that since salt intakes are related to blood pressure, and since cardiovascular risks are also related to blood pressure, that, surely, salt intake levels are related to cardiovascular risk. The idea is known as the “salt hypothesis.”

The problem with this hypothesis is that it has never been proven. In fact, it has been often disproven.

An eight-year study of a New York City hypertensive population stratified for sodium intake levels found those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as those on normal-sodium diets—the exact opposite of what the “salt hypothesis” would have predicted. (1995). Dr. Hillel Cohen who worked on the study documented no health outcomes benefits of lower-sodium diets.

In fact 17 different studies worldwide have found NO relation between salt intake and the incidence of stroke or heart attack.

“But the medical establishment has revered the low-sodium diet for so long that it’s hard to get doctors to question it,” says Dr. Cohen. Cohen doesn’t bother to follow the conventional wisdom himself: “I actually don’t pay attention to sodium.”

In fact, in a recent report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.

While people should not eat too much salt, the report also said that the data on the health effects of sodium were too inconsistent to say what the upper limit of sodium consumption should be.

A Salt Worth its Salt

If you value a whole food, pure diet, and avoid processed food and industrial food additives as a general rule, why choose a processed, additive-laden salt?
The balanced sodium, potassium and magnesium in natural, unrefined salt can help to regulate fluid balance in the body and allow nutrients and oxygen to travel to their necessary destinations. With adequate natural salt and pure water, conditions like gout, muscle cramps, water retention and edema can disappear.

Balanced natural salts help regulate healthy blood pressure. Natural salt has also been shown to be very helpful in treating adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome where blood pressure issues are common. A big pinch of sea salt into every glass of water you drink can makes a huge difference for adrenal fatigue!

Another benefit of natural salt is that it stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and digestive enzymes in the mouth and intestines, which are necessary for the body to utilize nutrients from the foods we eat.

This can be especially beneficial for people whose diet consists mainly of cooked foods, since cooking foods destroys enzyme content. Natural, whole mineral salt can help the body digest these foods properly.

Natural whole salt has been used as a primary medicine for thousands of years. It is known to help relieve asthma (by putting a small amount on the tongue and letting it dissolve after drinking a large glass of water). There is a new class of asthma inhalers now that use salt solution only, because it works so well.

Salt is also essential for nerve conduction and preserving melatonin and serotonin levels in the brain too, so it helps with a variety of emotional disorders such as high stress tendencies, anxiety, and depression. Natural salts have the ability to clean out the acidity in the brain which is very helpful with Alzheimer’s.

Natural salts are also vital for maintaining muscle tone and strength throughout the body. For example, ongoing low salt intake can affect bladder control in those who have urinary incontinence, and can slow down peristalsis (muscular contractions) in your intestines, leading to sluggish digestion.

An 8-ounce glass of water with a half teaspoon of natural salt and a half teaspoon of sugar or honey can even prevent or stop children’s febrile convulsions by restoring electrolyte homeostasis in the body.

Unrefined, natural salt can even help with weight loss. According to Dr. Esteban Genoa, a Miami physician,

“A lot of people are not overweight because of excess body fat; they are overweight because of excessive bodily fluids. This type of person may go on a starvation diet and gain weight.

These people will benefit from adding the right salt to their foods because their kidneys are not working correctly, the water exchange between the body’s organs, as well as between the extra cellular fluid and the intracellular fluid, does not flow properly. These people are not moving fluid through the system, they are water intoxicated, and they are really going to benefit from the proper salt. In addition, a person with this sort of weight problem should limit carbohydrates.”

Sugar cravings are also the result of eating the wrong kind of salt. The only reason people crave sugar is because the brain is not getting enough sugar. If you don’t have the right kind of salt in your system, you will not be able to extract the sugar out of the carbohydrates that you are eating so your brain keeps looking for sugar, and asking you to eat sugar.

In fact, you’ve eaten plenty of sugar; your body just has not digested and utilized it properly. Refined, iodized salt produces a ripple effect in the body. If, however, you consume the right kind of salt, these cravings will disappear in a very short period of time.”

Finally, a number of medical studies have begun to prove what people have known anecdotally for millennia: soaking in natural salt baths rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium may be beneficial in the treatment of various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

Given the latest health findings that a balance of minerals is the healthiest choice, it makes good sense to switch to natural salts which contain not only sodium and chloride, but also magnesium, potassium and other essential minerals in a form our bodies can naturally use.

Not only do these salts promote good health, they also just taste better.

Avoiding Refined Table Salt

Refined, processed salt is added to almost every preserved, packaged and processed product that you eat. Unless you diligently read every package label, it’s very easy to get too much of this industrial chemical and throw your body out of balance. This is important since over 90% of the money that most Westerners spend on food is for processed, packaged foods.

To avoid excess refined salt and its toxic additives, avoid processed foods as much as possible, and be careful to check the labels of the other foods you buy. Even fresh meats are often packaged in broths made with refined salt.

To avoid the refined salt shaker at restaurants, you can carry packets of natural salt in your purse or wallet. If you have adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, you should carry whole mineral salt with you everywhere!

Where to Find Natural Salt

Unrefined, natural salts are not white and dry; they are typically gray with minerals and feel damp. Some artisanal natural salts are pink, yellowish or even black to reflect the diverse mineral sources they come from. Each type of natural salt has its own unique flavor to experiment with.

You can find natural, unrefined salts at Whole Foods, natural food stores, as well as online. My favorite sea salt is from the Celtic Sea Salt Company, which sells unrefined salt that is hand raked from the Brittany sea. Himalayan Pink Sea Salt and Redmond Real Salt from prehistoric sea beds in Utah are also nice choices.

By choosing a real, whole food salt that is “worth its salt,” you can enjoy the health and taste benefits a balance of minerals from the sea can bring to your favorite dishes.

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.

61 Comments

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  • No criticism here, thanks for enlightening me and carry on. In the words of the Iron City House Rockers “Don’t let them push you around!”

  • As I read this article I accept it as opinion rather than fact. Many of the claims in this article are contrary to my own life experiences . I would caution readers to get their information from reputable sources such as doctors, colleges, research institutions and the like. Credible sources for sure. Keep in mind that one of the goals of this article is to expose you and I to advertising. It is my opinion that this article does more harm than good. I am a 64 year old, with a mother and a wife in the medical profession. I am however, not an expert on salt.

    • I always encourage my readers to use primary sources for their information; I am just a reporter, which is why I have quoted several doctors and linked to studies and books throughout the article. I merely quote the opinions of experts who, in this case, have evidence and professional opinions that go contrary to conventional wisdom and mainstream processed food propaganda, which is one of the purposes of this site.

      Advertising is how websites like this one (and also the Washington Post, NY Times, Huffington Post, etc.) are able to provide the news that they do. I wish that weren’t the case, but high-traffic websites and newsjournals are expensive to run, and very few people can make a living working for free. The purpose of the article is NOT to expose you to advertising. The purpose of the advertising is to make it possible to expose you to this article. Have a good day, sir.

    • Not one spot in your comment did you add any sort of value or critical thought that looked to improve our societies’ understanding of the different types of salt and their effects on the human body. The logic you used to make your case was entirely faulty and only suggested that you had trouble reading the article itself; discounting it as opinion purely on the basis that it challenges conventional wisdom you hold near and dear to your heart. If you are going to speak in an intelligible manner with the aims of helping others, rather than merely talking to validate your own beliefs, please put forth the same amount of consideration and thought for the issue as the author has done. Please do not take this as a personal attack but instead a gentle and caring reminder to think before you speak while also being mindful of your intentions regarding communication with others. This sort of attitude will only help us figure out what is causing the spectrum of health problems that so many individuals are experiencing today in the western world.

      • Thank you kindly good sir, for expressing the same thoughts that I myself have. Unfortunately far too many people are doing ‘research’ that subjectively isolates the views that sufficiently express their own opinions and not fact. It is becoming quite exhausting to wade through such articles, hoping that I will find some semblance of unbiased, objective information, sadly, it is the case that nearly every article I have found on alternative foods, medicine and the like, have done just that, subjected their readers to false information, or worse yet, unhealthy information… Glad there are other willing to call out this sort of behavior.

  • One other thing – although sea salt is mostly about 85% sodium chloride, Himalayan rock salt is 97.3% sodium chloride. That’s even purer NaCl that refined table salt! You really need to check the details before you publish. It’s too easy to just go with what you want to believe.

  • What a big pile of unsubstantiated BS. Sea salt made from seawater almost without any purification contains all the pollutants from air and water like microplastic pollution, heavy metals etc. Salt from mines was laid down there from ancient lakes and seas when they evaporated at time where there were no humans and our pollutants so it’s much cleaner actually. Eat what you want but do your research and don’t just parrot what you hear from marketing campaigns.

    • Wow! You have missed the point of the article, almost entirely. How sad! Most mined salt available at the average grocery store is refined, and trace minerals are stripped away, and replaced with additives such as aluminum and anti-caking agents. This is the salt that is harmful.

      If you are worried about ocean pollution, (though reputable sea salt brands are moderately purified and tested thoroughly), the article makes it very clear you can get whole, natural salt from ancient sea beds too, such as Redmond Real Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. Salt from ancient sea beds IS SEA SALT!!

      The whole point of this article is that you want to consume whole mineral salt, not salt that has been processed to death and filled with crap.

  • Oh snap, thank you very much for posting this! It is gonna aid me when I buy Himalayan Salt online! Fab!

  • While I’ll agree that the energy used to make table salt is not earth-friendly, and the impurities in sea salt can be good for you (and tasty!), this article does some serious scare mongering with:
    “After this extremely energy-intensive drying process, toxic additives like fluoride, anti-caking agents, excessive amounts of potassium iodide and other poisons are mixed into the salt”

    Really? Poisons? These compounds are not toxic in the amounts present, considering it is SALT and you shouldn’t be adding much of it to your food anyway. NaCl, H2O, formaldehyde, potassium… all in foods we eat, and can be TOXIC if overdosed, but not toxic when we consume them at the right levels.

    http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/images/SAS_-_Dose_Makes_The_Poison_FINAL_1.png

    • Thank you for your comment. Since this site is about eating foods and beverages in their whole, unprocessed or traditionally-prepared states, it makes no sense to advocate ADDED fluoride, anti-caking agents and potassium iodide at any dose, all of which come from industrial sources, not natural ones. For example, we already get too much industrially-produced fluoride in everything bottled we drink, we certainly don’t need any more.

      • Excellent article, thank you. Too bad you have so many replies from the ignorant masses who would rather believe mainstream info and keep poisoning their bodies. You deal with them pretty well though, and give some good answers.

  • There is nothing I use in my kitchen but Celtic, Himalayan and Real salt, for several years now.
    It does make a huge difference for your health, and it does taste better!
    Very good article … keep up the good work!

    Catherine Haensen
    WeightLossInfopedia.com

  • I found this post so interesting. I am definitely going to replace table salts with healthier salts. Funnily enough, my son was urging me to buy pink Himalayan sea salt the other day. I bought some for his kitchen, but next time I’ll get some for mine too 🙂

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