Salt has earned a bad reputation in recent years, so it may comes as a surprise to hear this ancient seasoning is actually crucial for good health.
Humans are made up of about 72% water and 28% mineral salts, (plus some 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
The differences between refined 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, or 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 table salt producing companies mine unpalatable 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, an unnatural chemical form of salt that your body recognizes as a foreign substance it wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
In order to eliminate the invader, water molecules surround the sodium chloride to neutralize it by breaking it into sodium and chloride ions. For this process, water is extracted from our cells, which then can dehydrate and die. This neutralization process not only kills cells, but also takes a tremendous amount of energy, and causes a constant overburden on our excretory organs.
But if that weren’t enough, 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. Many versions of commercial salt also contain toxic aluminum derivatives, which have been implicated in a number of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
All these additives can cause discoloration in salt, so bleaching agents are then used to restore the desirable white color. The end product is a highly industrial, toxic pseudo-food Americans have come to think of as “salt” that causes the potential for a myriad of health problems.
Sea salt is better than table 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. Unlike refined salt which contains only 2 or 3 elements, sea salt contains about 80 mineral elements (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and more) that are essential in 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, sea 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:
For 4,000 years, we have known that salt intake can affect blood pressure. We also know that a minority of the population can lower blood pressure by restricting dietary salt. And we know that elevated blood pressure, “hypertension,” is a well-documented risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. And we 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.”
He says his study, which was published in the March 2009 American Journal of Medicine, doesn’t mean that everyone should abandon the low-sodium diet right away. Americans eating a processed food diet simply get too much sodium, no matter how you cut it. He does say, though, that researchers need to ask if the current recommendations are truly useful for everyone—and whether a low-sodium diet might even have negative effects on health.
The balanced sodium, potassium and magnesium in natural, unrefined sea salt can help to regulate fluid balance in the body and allow nutrients and oxygen to travel to their necessary destinations. Unlike refined salt which takes water from your cells, natural salt allows the body to achieve a balance of water in your “oceans,” both inside and outside your cells. With adequate natural salt and pure water, conditions like gout, muscle cramps, water retention and edema 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. I put a big pinch of sea salt into every glass of water I drink, and it makes a huge difference for me!
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 sea salt can help the body digest these foods properly.
Sea salt has been used as a primary medicine for thousands of years. Sea salt can 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 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 sea 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 sodium chloride 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 refined table 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 sea salt in your purse or wallet. If you have adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, you should carry sea salt with you everywhere!
Where to Find Natural Salt
Unrefined, natural sea salt is not white and dry; it is gray with minerals and feels 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 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.