What is salt?
Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent. The open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per liter of seawater, a salinity of 3.5%.
Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.
How Do You Use Salt?
With the ability to bring out the inherent, muted flavors in food, salt is added to most recipes — including sweets — to smooth everything out. Without it, home cooking can be bland and unappetizing, but getting in the habit of adding too much salt to foods is linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular irregularities.
While definitely less health-threatening, large amounts of salt can cause water retention, making your pants feel a bit snugger and leaving your skin looking dehydrated. However, salt is necessary for our bodies to function correctly, maintaining normal heart rhythm and nerve function — without it, serious complications can arise.
Salt of the Earth
Our esteem for salt goes back to Biblical times. When you call someone “salt of the earth” to indicate that they embody integrity and composure in difficult situations, you’re actually quoting from Matthew 5:13. Salt was valued so highly that it was equated with currency, as you can hear in our modern word “salary,” or “payment in salt.”
The general theme of Matthew 5:13–16 is promises and expectations, and these expectations follow the promises of the first part. The first verse of this passage introduces the phrase “salt of the earth”: You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted?
Where Does Salt Come From Originally?
Salt comes from two main sources: seawater and the sodium chloride mineral halite (also known as rock salt). Rock salt occurs in vast beds of sedimentary evaporite minerals that result from the drying up of enclosed lakes, playas, and seas. Salt beds may be up to 350 m thick and underlie broad areas.
Salt is processed from salt mines, and by the evaporation of seawater (sea salt) and mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools. Its major industrial products are caustic soda and chlorine; salt is used in many industrial processes including the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, plastics, paper pulp, and many other products.
Difference Between Salt and Sodium
Table salt is a common term for the salt that we add to food or use in cooking, but it isn’t pure sodium. Table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride by weight. Sodium is a substance that affects blood pressure and is the main ingredient in salt.
Salt is a chemical compound made up of sodium and chloride. And in actuality, it’s the sodium that’s really detrimental to your health. (Consequently, it’s also the chloride that gives food that “salty” taste.)
Purpose of Salt
Salt has various purposes, the most common being to flavor foods. Salt is also used as a food preservative since bacteria have trouble growing in a salt-rich environment. As we’ve seen, flavoring and preservation are the two main reasons manufacturers add sodium chloride to fast food items and many packages.
Different Types of Salt
1. Table Salt
Table salt is the most common ground salt (taken from the ground, not the sea) usually contains added iodine, an essential mineral that helps prevent hypothyroidism and other health problems that result from an iodine-deficient diet. Iodine is an important mineral. And ⅓ of the human population is at risk for deficiency.
How Much Salts Do You Need?
You only need about 150 mcg per day — and for many people, iodized salt meets that need. But if you don’t eat iodized salt, then it’s wise to make sure you have another healthy source like seaweed, milk, wild fish, eggs, and unrefined sea salts.
These salt granules are small enough to fit through a shaker without clogging it. Some table salt is coated with an anti-caking agent (deemed Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS, by the USDA, if present below a certain threshold) to prevent the particles from clumping together.
2. Sea Salt
Sea salt comes from evaporated ocean water. It has become more popular in recent years, partly because of marketing that makes it seem more “natural.” Sea salt granules are larger, coarser, and less refined than table salt.
And it often contains more minerals that naturally come from the ocean, such as potassium, iron, and zinc.
While most sea salt doesn’t naturally contain iodine, many brands now also add this important mineral. However, sea salt can also contain microplastic residues because of its increasing prevalence in the ocean.
3. Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt is coarse and chunky like sea salt and comes from mines in Pakistan. It’s known for its pinkish hue. This type of salt contains small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, making it slightly lower in sodium than regular table salt.
However, while some people eat pink salt for the minerals, they’re present only in small quantities. You’re probably better off getting most of your minerals from your food. There are also some environmental concerns with using Himalayan Pink Salt. It’s a non-renewable, finite resource that requires many greenhouse gas-emitting food miles to reach global consumers.
4. Kosher Salt
Kosher salt is most often used in Kosher Jewish cooking. It gets its name from the texture and larger size of its flakes, making it ideal for removing moisture from meat cooked in the koshering process. Kosher salt doesn’t usually contain iodine and is less likely to contain additives like anti-caking agents.
5. Gourmet Salt
Gourmet salts run the gamut in terms of price and taste. “Plain” finishing and naturally flavored finishing salts can be a unique addition to any dish. They carry a heftier price tag than basic sea salt or ground salt but are used in moderate amounts, potentially lasting for years.
Smoked salts are just that; smoked. This gourmet treat is to be used sparingly on meats, fish, eggs, and vegetables for a truly unique taste. Flavored salts can include any number of natural additions, from lemon peel to lavender to dried truffles to chili, and can be purchased or made at home.
Which Salt is Better?
No matter which salt you choose, the small amount used contributes little nutritional value to your overall diet, making your selection a matter of personal taste,
Most table salt has added iodine, an essential nutrient that helps maintain a healthy thyroid. Sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight.
What is Sodium?
Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral that is either innately found in foods, added during the manufacturing process, or sometimes both. It’s an electrolyte, which means it carries an electric charge when dissolved in bodily fluids such as blood.
Where Do You Find Sodium in Your Body?
Most of the sodium in your body is in your blood as well as the fluid around your cells. Sodium plays a key role in maintaining normal nerve and muscle function as well as keeping bodily fluids in normal balance.
How Do You Get Sodium?
Your body gets sodium through eating and drinking and eliminates it primarily through urine and sweat losses — a process managed by healthy kidneys.
When the sodium you eat and the sodium you excrete aren’t in balance, this affects the total amount of sodium in your body, which can lead to health problems.
Effect of Not Having Enough Sodium in Your Blood
Not having enough sodium in your blood can cause a condition called hyponatremia. It is generally defined as a sodium concentration of less than 135 mEq/L of blood, with severe hyponatremia being below 120 mEq/L. Hyponatremia happens when your body holds onto too much water, which dilutes the amount of sodium in your blood and causes low levels.
There are more than three million cases of hyponatremia per year in the United States. Symptoms can include nausea, headache, confusion, and fatigue. In the most severe cases, it can cause seizures, coma, or even death.
Causes of Hyponatremia
While consuming too little sodium can theoretically be a cause of hyponatremia, it rarely is. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes are:
- Certain medications, especially diuretics, antidepressants, and pain medications that can interfere with the normal hormonal and kidney processes that keep sodium concentrations within the healthy, normal range.
- Heart, kidney, and liver problems. Congestive heart failure and certain diseases affecting the kidneys or liver can cause fluids to accumulate in your body, which dilutes the sodium in your body, lowering the overall level.
- Chronic, severe vomiting or diarrhea and other causes of dehydration.
- Drinking too much water, which can cause low sodium by overwhelming the kidneys’ ability to excrete water. Because you lose sodium through sweat, drinking too much water during endurance activities, such as marathons and triathlons, can also dilute the sodium content of your blood. In one study, 13% of Boston Marathon finishers were hyponatremic at the end of the race.
- Adrenal gland insufficiency (Addison’s disease) can affect your adrenal glands’ ability to produce hormones that help maintain your body’s balance of sodium, potassium, and water. Low levels of thyroid hormone also can cause a low blood sodium level.
How Much Sodium Do You Need?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend for the average healthy adult to get less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (that’s less than one teaspoon). The American Heart Association and the Institute of Medicine recommend that most adults should consume 1,500 mg per day.
Your optimal sodium intake can vary depending on individual factors like gender, age, ethnicity, overall health, and existing medical conditions, but this gives a good reference range for most people.
What Happens When You Get Too Much Sodium?
Worldwide, the average person is consuming 3,950 mg of sodium per day, or roughly double the recommended amount, which brings us to the problems that come with too much sodium. And the biggest one is heart disease.
1. Heart Disease
Too much sodium in your body can raise your blood pressure, as excessive sodium intake can make it difficult for your kidneys to remove the fluid. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart disease because it can enlarge the heart’s left pumping chamber and weaken the muscle, damage artery walls, and increase the risk for plaque buildup that may cause a heart attack or stroke.
A 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that worldwide, excessive sodium consumption caused 1.65 million heart disease deaths per year. That’s 4,500 deaths every single day.
2. Kidney Disease
Having high blood pressure also puts stress on the important filtering units of your kidneys. This can lead to scarring, which lessens the ability of your kidneys to regulate fluid balance, further increasing blood pressure.
As you can imagine, this can become a vicious cycle, leading to kidney disease and even kidney failure. Kidney disease can be difficult to detect, so many people don’t even know they have it.
3. Type 2 Diabetes
How well your body regulates blood sugar can also be impacted by extra sodium in your body. High sodium can worsen insulin resistance, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The Potassium-Sodium Balance
Potassium and sodium are both electrolytes that are needed for your body to function normally. They work together in harmony, And the balance between them is important. But most people in the modern world are not only eating too much sodium, but they’re also eating too little potassium, which exacerbates the problem.
The combination of consuming more sodium and having too little potassium in your diet is associated with higher blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Reducing sodium and increasing potassium in your diet can help control hypertension and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Rich sources of potassium include avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, watermelon, coconut water, white beans, edamame, and, perhaps, the most famous potassium source of all, bananas.
When you order carry-out or eat at a restaurant the terminology used in the descriptions on the menu can indicate that an item is high in sodium.
Look for words like brine, cured, broth, au jus, miso, pickled, smoked, teriyaki sauce, and soy sauce as clues that there is a lot of sodium in a dish.
Some of the Most High-Sodium Foods Tend to Include:
- Processed or seasoned meat products
- Fast food
- Frozen dinners & other packaged foods
- Canned soups
- Condiments and sauces
- Store-bought salad dressings
- Fermented foods like kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut (though you may want to use these as a source of salt since they offer so many other health benefits)
Fruits and vegetables are among the best low-sodium foods. Plus, they’re full of nutrients and taste great.
Some examples of fruits and vegetables that contain naturally-occurring sodium, but are still low-sodium include:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Bell Peppers
Substitute for Salt
Instead of salt, experiment with other spices and herbs to add flavor to your food. In addition to salt-free seasonings, you may find that using garlic and onion powder, Italian seasonings, curries, turmeric, or cumin hit the spot for various dishes. There’s no need for boring meals. Life is too short to eat boring food!
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Please let us know in the comments below :
- Do you use salt in your diet? Why or why not?
Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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