Salt has really gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades.
It’s been pegged as a culprit in hypertension (high blood pressure) and many people across the nation are on a low salt diet. Some food companies are so dedicated to producing low-salt foods that they end up making no-taste foods. I tested a gluten-free processed dinner (like a hamburger helper mix) and it was absolutely terrible until we added about a teaspoon of salt. Then it was excellent.
Low salt not only means low flavor, but too little salt can lead to death quicker than an adequate salt intake:
A 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine tells us that “sodium intake of less than 2300 mg (the daily recommended allowance) was associated with a 37% increase in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 28% increase of all-cause mortality. 1
Surprised? I bet you’re not the only one.
What Is Salt?
Salt is mainly two minerals, sodium and chloride. It is found in seawater and in mineral deposits within the earth, which are from ancient seas – therefore all salt is really “sea salt” at its origins!
Our Bodies Need Salt
We all know our bodies are made up of mostly water, but did you know it’s actually salt water, with a very similar composition to the ocean? That’s why when someone is ill, they receive a saline, or salt-water, solution, directly into their bloodstream.
Salt is actually essential to life:
- Salt is necessary to retain hydration, the reason why salt is in drinks like Gatorade and other electrolyte drinks doctors use to treat patients suffering from dehydration, diarrhea, etc. (here is my healthy homemade version)
- Salt is key to carrying babies to term
- Salt regulates blood sugar, important for diabetics not to have low salt intake
- Salt contributes to a healthy thyroid because of iodine
- Salt acts as an antihistamine
- It’s even a sleep aid! A few grains in a glass of water before bed helps you sleep more soundly.
It’s certainly important to mention that many people, processed food eating Americans in particular, get too much sodium, and the wrong kind. Salt, like many other foods, has a “real” or “whole foods” way to find it and a “fake” or “processed” version.
Why Are There Different Salts?
If all salt is ultimately “sea salt,” what’s the big deal with the million kinds of salt you can find in a specialty store?
Some salts are different simply for their flavor or texture, intended for the gourmet cook to be able to choose the right salt for a given dish.
However, on the nutritional spectrum, there are three main categories of salt worth exploring:
- Table salt
The common white salt you’re used to. Table salt is only sodium and chloride, usually mined from rock salt or seawater.2 It then has the other naturally occurring minerals stripped from it, which are often sold to vitamin companies at a premium price.This refining results in a bitter taste, which is one reason for the fillers, including dextrose (good old corn sugar). Anti-caking agents are also usually added, and it’s sprayed with synthetic iodine to make up for the minerals taken out. (More below) Any anti-caking agent serves to prevent absorption of water, which defeats salt’s purpose to help our bodies retain water. They’re not good for us!
- Sea salt
The label “sea salt” feels to me more of a marketing campaign strategy to convince people to pay a higher price for “health food” than a helpful statement of truth. Again, since all sodium chloride ultimately came from a sea at some point, all salt is sea salt. The common white sea salt sold for 2-3x the price of iodized table salt is refined in a similar way to table salt, removing most of the minerals in the process.4 White sea salt is no healthier than table salt, and is lacking the iodine that your body does need.
- Unrefined sea salt
Harvested sea salt that is not refined actually has over 60 different minerals in it (instead of TWO). As usual, when we take something out of a natural food product, we end up with problems (see below on high blood pressure). The balance God created in salt is key. Why we’re surprised by that I don’t understand. Unrefined salt will usually be colorful, with shades of pink, brown, or grey, depending on the source. Some brands that help you make sure you’re getting real, unrefined sea salt include Real Salt, Celtic Sea Salt, and Himalayan Salt. We’ll talk Monday about the differences in the three. The bottom line is that real, unrefined sea salt provides a natural balance of minerals that keeps us healthy instead of making us sick.
Not everyone buys into “healthy salt.” Here’s an alternative view from Mayo Clinic: “Sea salt is produced through evaporation of seawater, usually with little processing, which leaves behind some trace minerals and elements depending on its water source. These insignificant amounts of minerals add flavor and color to sea salt, which also comes in a variety of coarseness levels.”
What About Iodine?
Iodine began to be added to salt simply because people were having goiter problems because of iodine deficiencies, and salt was one place iodine could be “stuck” that everyone would use. Real, unrefined sea salt is a natural source of iodine, but we likely don’t get all that we need if we consume unrefined salt. Iodine is also found naturally in many other foods, like eggs, seaweed (I add this to my chicken stock recipe), yogurt, strawberries and mozzarella cheese. As usual, we’re not locked into getting a nutrient from just one food source in nature.
The bottom line again? You can get the iodine your body needs from unrefined salt plus a balanced diet including some of the foods listed above. If you’re deficient in iodine, you could go with a synthetic additive in table salt, or take a real supplement made of sea vegetables.
Does Salt Increase Blood Pressure?
My father-in-law struggles with high blood pressure and talks constantly about how he has to watch his salt intake. Unfortunately, he focuses mostly on the salt shaker and not on all the hidden sodium content certainly in the restaurant food my in-laws rely on after a hard day’s work. He also doesn’t know anything about the different kinds of salt. I’m excited to have a box of the cutest little samples from Real Salt, and you better believe I’m sharing some with them!
Folks with high blood pressure are often told to lay off the salt, and for good reason. A lower sodium diet – when people go from table salt and processed foods to less salt – does reduce blood pressure.
Statistics can be tricky.
The risk of high blood pressure is actually a cardiovascular incident like heart disease or a heart attack. However lower-sodium diets have been shown to have negative effects on cardiovascular health – especially for individuals with diabetes – and/or have no positive impact on overall cardiovascular health.5
Simply using real, unrefined sea salt as your body craves it can improve your health and certainly doesn’t sound like it will increase your blood pressure. It’s a very simple change to make, which is why we’re talking salt today!s
Making the Switch
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to upgrade your salt.
If you are still using iodized table salt, or even bright white sea salt, it’s time to make an easy, easy switch.
Is Salt Traditional?
Salt was a prized commodity hundreds and thousands of years ago. It’s necessary for the rising of bread, many fermentation practices and other food preservation techniques. Without salt, humans would die and many of our favorite foods would be rendered impossible.
Christ also said in the Gospels (as an astute reader pointed out), “You are the salt of the earth,” and in so many other places in Scripture, salt is discussed in only a positive light.
I have a hard time believing that something so greatly-sought-after, so honored in the Scriptures, could be the demon our culture has made it out to be.
Unrefined Sea Salt
Ultimately, all salt comes from the sea. Unrefined sea salt comes in 3 kinds that I know of:
- Himalayan Salt
- Celtic Sea Salt
- Real Salt
You can tell you’ve got a winner if your salt is various colors, often pink, tan, grey, or speckled.
I had never heard of Himalayan Salt until I posted something on Facebook asking what kind of salt people used. It turns out Himalayan salt is an ancient deposit of salt beneath the earth in the Himalayan Mountains, which means the product avoids modern pollution in the oceans. All of its minerals are intact, and I do hear some good things about it.
One deficit of Himalayan Salt is that it does have to be flown in from Pakistan, so there’s some environmental (and likely financial) cost there. You can price check various kinds:
- Coarse granules (you’ll need a grinder for these; some come with their own grinder)
- Fine grain (the kind you can put in any old salt shaker)
Celtic salt is harvested in the Atlantic off the coast of France using old world methods. Wooden rakes ensure no metal ever touches the salt. It is naturally dried and contains all 84 trace elements.source
It also comes in both coarse and pre-ground like the Himalayan salt. I recommend price checking around and considering buying in bulk because salt never goes bad! If you get the coarse granules, you need a ceramic salt grinder, like this simple one or this one. This one by OXO is the one we’ve had for at least 5 years and it’s held up nicely.
Real Salt is mined from an ancient sea in the depths of Utah. Like Himalayan salt, it is exempt from the issues of modern pollution. Mining 300 feet below the surface, they take care to make sure no contaminants enter the salt during processing.
You can see Real Salt’s full nutritional profile here.
They do an interesting thing on the Real Salt website, talking well about the competition. You can see their comparison of these three salts right here. I have to say, I like their sassiness!
The cost that I’ve paid in West Michigan (in 2011) includes a 9 oz. shaker for $3.59 at Meijer and $7.05 for a 28 oz. (not quite 2 lbs.) bag at a local health food store. They sell a bulk 10-lb. bucket online, and I see earth-friendly packaging, all paper, options there too, which is pretty cool. My favorite source is Country Life Natural Foods where I can get a 25-pound bag for under $70 (in 2016) which is a crazy good deal! It’s definitely worth pricing around.
What I Use
I use both Celtic Salt and Real Salt. I got a huge bulk bag of Celtic Salt last year, and for quite a while, I only used it in soups where I knew it would dissolve, because I hadn’t tracked down a ceramic salt grinder (metal would rust because of the moisture content).
Now that I have one, I can use it at the table, but I realized that I’d have to grind salt for baking. There’s no way I’m going to grind a teaspoon or two of salt to make bread – I spend enough time standing around in my kitchen!
So for me, granulated salt is paramount. I’m very happy to have my bulk package of Real Salt, which I feel like I’m constantly replacing!
Benefits to Real Salt
In my book, Real Salt is the winner. Here are just a few reasons:
- U.S. company (we Americans are not dependent on foreign salt)
- Protected from pollution because it’s mined underground
- Easy to find, even in my big chain grocery store
- Already granulated – no grinding salt just to make bread or muffins
For me, I’ve decided to listen to my body and salt my food as it tastes good. Many people would probably pop their eyes open seeing me generously shake salt on my baked potatoes and eggs. But the good stuff, I believe, won’t hurt me, and since we eat hardly any processed foods, I bet I still get less salt than the average American.
Here’s something interesting – in January 2011, the government lowered their daily requirements for salt intake by almost a third, from 2300 mg to 1500. Phew! I wasn’t happy to read that, but I’m so pumped to share that in 2015 they popped the number right back up to 2300 mg/day! Funny, eh? Just goes to show that it’s not always wise to follow the “latest recommendations,” especially if they don’t fit what was traditionally done. source
A study in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition debunks the myth that high sodium intake causes high blood pressure. They found that blood pressure is affected by a balance of nutrients with sodium, including calcium and potassium. Also, in addition to nutritional imbalances, a diet high in intake of simple carbohydrates may have a negative effect on blood pressure. Whole foods win again!
Is it Gritty?
I’ve had a few people mention on Facebook and Twitter that their experience with Real Salt was a negative one, that it was so gritty, even in bread, that it was like eating sand. “How do you deal with that?” they asked.
It’s simple. I’ve never noticed. ??? This weekend I will admit that perhaps in my pancakes, I did notice a little more crunch than one might expect. Huh! I was surprised. I’ve definitely never noticed it in bread or soup or anything.
Of course, I just conducted a quick experiment, dissolving a generous shake of Real Salt in warm water. And? It doesn’t quite all dissolve. The brown specks are still there, but they are small. Not tooth breakingly present, believe me. I learned something new today!
But Healthy Salt Is Expensive!
Sadly, yes it is. You’ll quickly come to understand why the saying is “they’re worth their weight in salt” or how it was used for currency. Unrefined Sea Salt definitely costs more than refined grocery-store-salt.
But it is an important upgrade we are willing to make for the sake of our family and our health.
So how do you save money on ordering salt?
1. Order your salt in bulk.
Salt won’t spoil. If you keep it in a glass container – especially keeping out the humidity – it is shelf stable for years. I typically store my salt in glass canning jars that I picked up from my grocery store.
You can easily save several dollars-per-pound ordering in bulk. Don’t think you’ll go through 5, 10 or 25 lbs.? Order with a friend.
2. Keep an eye out for sales and discounts.
- Redmond Real Salt offers a discount code just for KS readers. Get 15% off your purchase by heading to the Redmond Store and enter the code “Kitchenstewardship.” (NOTE: This code only works on Redmond’s page.)
- The popular natural foods co-op Azure Standard regularly runs sales in addition to their wholesale prices. Keep in mind that you have to join the co-op drop in order to order. There is no cost to join, but you have to make sure they deliver to your area first.
Bottom line: shop around a little every time you order salt.
3. Use the right grind for the right task.
You can buy salt in different types of grinds. Fine grind is like the table salt you’re used to pouring out of a shaker – and it’s more expensive because someone has already taken the effort to get it to such a tiny size. Coarse grind looks like little rocks.
You don’t have to use a fine grind in 100% of your cooking, by the way. I grew up only seeing fine salt being used, so it took me awhile to break into a new rhythm.
- Use FINE grind on the table if you don’t want to have to purchase a salt grinder. I guess you could straight up use coarse grind on the table, but those would be some serious chunks on your green beans.
- Use FINE grind in drier applications, like baked items. Though some people use coarse grind in their baking, too. Really, it’s a preference thing. If you’re worried about the salt not being evenly distributed, dissolve it in the liquid in the recipe first.
- Use COARSE grind whenever you make chicken broth.
- Use COARSE grind whenever you make a more liquidy or saucey dish, like spaghetti sauce, Homestyle Chicken Casserole, chili, soup, etc.
4. Store your salt in a jar – and rubber band a measuring spoon to the side.
I’m embarrassed to tell you how much salt I have accidently wasted (in my early years of cooking) because I poured it out of a container. Please, don’t keep it in the original packaging. Even if you use Morton’s salt (with the round cardboard container), PLEASE put it in a jar. This tip will save you from unwanted oopsies!
- I use a repurposed jelly jar and keep a rubber band around it. Since I’m always grabbing my salt jar for adding to dishes, I permanently keep a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon attached to the jar.
- Since you only use the measuring spoon for salt, you don’t have to wash it each time – remember, salt is already a natural cleaning agent for things like cast iron!
5. Keep unrefined salt on the table where you will use it.
This might seem like a no-brainer. But if you only keep your unrefined salt in the cupboard – and not on the table – you won’t remember to use it.
- The fine grind of Redmond Real Salt can pour out of a regular salt shaker with no problem.
- Because Celtic Salt has a high brine/moisture content, the fine grind doesn’t pour out of a traditional salt shaker so easily. I repurposed a cinnamon spice jar with slightly larger holes in the pour spout to make it flow better. Sometimes the salt clumps together, so we just give it a good whack.
Granted, you can also save half the cost of your salt and use a coarse grind with a ceramic grinder. But with having little kids at home, I really don’t want to hassle with using a ceramic salt grinder on the table for dinner.
6. Make sure you are getting enough salt in your diet.
If you find that you aren’t getting enough salt in your diet (which is entirely possible if you make everything from scratch and rarely salt your dishes), try adding a pinch or two to your glass of water.
If you drink filtered water – especially Reverse Osmosis (RO) water – many of the nutrients naturally found in water are stripped out during the filtering process. (source) That doesn’t mean filtered water is bad!! It just means you may need to add a few granules of salt to ensure you’re getting enough healthy minerals in your diet.
Did you know there are over 60+ essential trace minerals in salt? That’s pretty impressive.
7. Commit to only buying coarse salt.
The larger grinds of salt are a lot less expensive — like half the price of fine grinds!!
Buy a one-time purchase of a ceramic grinder and then purchase the coarse grinds for cheaper. Just please, PLEASE make sure you get a CERAMIC grinder. Anything else will rust.
- This grinder is #1 in popularity for ceramic salt mills on Amazon.
- And the team at America’s Test Kitchen recommends this (more expensive) salt grinder.
8. Don’t worry if your salt becomes “clumpy.”
There is no anti-caking agent in good-quality unrefined sea salt. In fact, you may find that the Celtic Sea Salt almost seems wet! No, there’s nothing wrong with it.
- NEVER hold your salt shaker over a warm pot. Even if you can’t see steam, the warm moisture from the air will make your salt clump together. That’s why I keep my salt in a jar with a measuring spoon handy (Tip #4).
- If you do feel that your salt becomes unmanageably clumpy, you can spread your salt on a sheet and dehydrate it for a few hours (or bake below 200*F in your oven – but just watch it!).
- You can also put a grain or two of rice in your salt shaker to help absorb the moisture.
- Or just give your salt shaker a good WHACK! with your hand before you shake some out …. which is what we do in our house.
9. Keep some salt in a portable container to take with you when you travel.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve been traveling and find myself wishing for my salt back home. When I’m smart I keep a tiny travel container of salt with my cooler for portable lunches or long trips.
- I also tuck some salt into my traveling first aid kit (which I use when I feel myself getting adrenally fatigued while traveling, as I mentioned earlier in this post).
10. Save the excess salt when you make popcorn.
We love popcorn in our house. We make a stovetop recipe that is super easy.
However, I started to notice that there was always a bit of salt in the bottom of the bowl from tossing the popcorn. So I started saving the excess salt in it’s own popcorn jar to reuse – which works especially since popcorn is our go-to snack.
Oh – and don’t forget to label your jar.
11. Use salt as a detox agent.
If you find yourself under the weather, treat yourself to a warm bath using bath salts (like these from Redmond Real Salt). Sometimes we use a cup of Epsom Salt in a pinch, though epsom salt is NOT the same thing as unrefined bath sea salts. Unrefined bath sea salt has 50+ trace minerals.
Redmond explains more on their website:
You can even find Halotherapy (salt therapy) offices popping up around the nation.
- These are literally rooms of salt with a specified salt content, heat level, and humidity control. There is evidence that sitting in a room of salt can help detox your body and improve your ability to breathe, which is great for those with bronchial issues. (source)
- We have a salt room near our home and whenever we get a funk that we can’t kick, we like to visit. I’m always AMAZED how much better everyone looks and feels afterwards.
Real Salt logo here:
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