Salt doesn’t just make any dish taste better but also is absolutely crucial for our overall wellbeing. But are there health problems associated with it? Read below to discover:
- According to many studies salt cannot be conclusively linked to high blood pressure and heart disease
- The health benefits of salt and the ancient empires that have cherished it
- The differences between the Frankenstein table salt and pure salt of the earth
Good old salt. So common, yet so much controversy. We keep hearing that “salt will kill you”, “you can’t live without salt”, “salt raises your blood pressure”, “salt reduces risk of heart disease”. Who and what should you believe? Like all recipes for confusion, with a pinch of politics and drop of conflicting studies that’s what you get: a messy kitchen!
LET’S EXPLORE SOME OF THE FACTS
It’s coming up to 30 years since a study in The Journal of Chronic Diseases showed adults under the age of 40 having no change in blood pressure when decreasing their sodium intake. Since then, so many studies have been published showing no clear evidence that salt is linked to cardiovascular disease. Some studies even concluded that chances of cardiovascular disease actually decrease with increased sodium intake.
Despite numerous studies showing the contrary, salt continues to be a painted public enemy when it comes to heart disease.
SCIENTIFIC CONFUSION AROUND SALT
Let’s get straight to the point: there is no conclusive evidence or consensus amongst leading researchers that salt causes harm. That leaves only one real conclusion: there must be other factors at play in these studies. To definitely believe that salt causes harm would be strange given the amount of studies published showing otherwise.
- As early as 1987, a study published in the Journal of Chronic Diseases, showed that adults under the age of 40 had no change in blood pressure when decreasing sodium intake.
- Similarly, a study in The British Medical Journal (1988) demonstrated no relationship between sodium and hypertension.
- In 2006, The American Journal of Medicine published a study stating that the evidence linking sodium intake to mortality is “scant and inconsistent.”
- More recently, a study conducted by the University of Leuven, Belgium in 2011 (that examined 3,681 participants) concluded that 1) there was no association between higher sodium levels intake and increased hypertension or heart disease and ... 2) the risk of death from heart disease was actually considerably higher in participants with the lowest sodium (a death rate of 4.1%) compared to those with the highest sodium levels (less than 1%).
On the one hand, we’re told that salt causes high blood pressure and heart disease and on the other the research evidence is saying it doesn’t, and even states the opposite. What’s going on?
Could it simply be that we’re all talking about different substances but loosely calling them all “salt” under one umbrella? What is salt? Is it sodium? Is it sodium chloride? Is it rock salt? Is it sea salt? Is it processed? Is it naturally formed? What were we testing again…? Could this be leading to such varied results and opinions?
Read on to understand the differences of various salts and how they can affect your health >>
THE IMPORTANCE OF SALT FOR YOUR HEALTH
Salt has been a part of life since as far back as you choose to believe. If we evolved out of the ocean, salt must have been an integral part of existence. If we were created by a supreme God or power, they had also designed us in a way that our cells can’t operate without salt.
Salt is so integral to our lives that simply put, without any salt your body would quickly cease to function.
A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted a lower limit of salt intake, below which heart attacks, stroke and death were more likely. Low levels of sodium in the body could also lead to conditions such as hyponatremia with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, confusion, fatigue, muscle weakness, seizures and cramps to name some (google for more).
Salt is critical for:
- Moving nutrients in and out of your cells.
- Helping the lining of your blood vessels to regulate blood pressure.
- Helping regulate transmission of nerve impulses.
- Helping your brain communicate with your muscles.
SALT: THE TREASURE OF THE EMPIRES
- Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, born AD 23, wrote that “[I]n Rome… the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it…”
- As early as 550 BC the Hebrew Book of Ezra told us that accepting salt was synonymous with taking pay. Depending on the translation of Ezra 4:14, the servants of King Artaxerxes I of Persia explain their loyalty as "because we have eaten the salt of the palace".
- The royal rulers of the Incan civilization cherished the intricate salt ponds of Maras as a gift from the Gods.
- Even in more recent history, African and European explorers were known to trade one ounce of salt for an ounce of gold.
For thousands of years, across so many cultures and civilizations, salt has been revered as a prized possession.
WHICH SALT SHOULD WE EAT?
Much of the on-going confusion as to whether salt is good or bad for you, could boil down to the ever stronger notion that unrefined real foods are far healthier than anything man can process and create in the lab. How different is processed table salt to real unrefined salt?
Natural salts are 84% sodium chloride with the remaining 16% made up of naturally occurring minerals.
However, processed salt is 98% sodium chloride, with the remaining 2% made up of man-made chemicals, such as anti-caking and flow agents, moisture absorbents and aluminium hydroxide (aluminium is a light alloy that deposits in your brain and is a potential cause of Alzheimer’s), amongst others.
The negative effects often associated with salt can be due to the fact that (after a harsh chemical process!) table salt is stripped off its natural mineral content, lacking important minerals such as magnesium. It’s then also bleached to achieve the white appearance we’re all so used to.
Table salt undergoes a harsh chemical process where it’s stripped of its minerals and bleached to appear white.
Our top recommendation for your salt: Himalayan pink salt.
It contains 84 trace minerals! You can think about it as a multi-mineral supplement. It’s formed within the rocks of the Himalayan mountains over millions of years, from ancient prehistoric seas. It’s far from any impurities and industrial contaminants.
C&J Tip: Himalayan salt that’s mined deeper underneath the mountains is considered purer and higher quality as it’s formed under huge pressure – look for salt that is mined at least 5,000 feet deep (as cheaper products may be collected near the top of the mountain, therefore are less pure).
Other high quality natural salts to look into would be Utah beds salt and Celtic Sea Salt®
HOW MUCH SALT IS OK?
Looking at the presented evidence and hearing out the experts, we would suggest:
- Replace any processed table salts with natural high quality salts of the earth
- Salt your food to taste in moderation and don’t go overboard.
- Don’t fear and shun this essential source of minerals that your body needs for good health.
Heterogeneity of blood pressure response to dietary sodium restriction in normotensive adults. J Chronic Dis. 1987;40(3):245-50. Authors: Miller JZ, Weinberger MH, Daugherty SA, Fineberg NS, Christian JC, Grim CE.
Intersalt: an international study of electrolyte excretion and blood pressure. Results for 24 hour urinary sodium and potassium excretion. BMJ. 1988 Jul 30; 297(6644): 319–328. PMID: PMC1834069. Authors: Intersalt Cooperative Research Group.
Sodium intake and mortality in the NHANES II follow-up study. Am J Med. 2006 Mar;119(3):275.e7-14. Authors: Cohen HW1, Hailpern SM, Fang J, Alderman MH.
Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Cochrane review). Am J Hypertens. 2011 Aug;24(8):843-53. doi: 10.1038/ajh.2011.115. Epub 2011 Jul 6. Authors: Taylor RS1, Ashton KE, Moxham T, Hooper L, Ebrahim S.
Urinary sodium and potassium excretion and risk of cardiovascular events. JAMA. 2011 Nov 23;306(20):2229-38. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.1729. Authors: O’Donnell MJ1, Yusuf S, Mente A, Gao P, Mann JF, Teo K, McQueen M, Sleight P, Sharma AM, Dans A, Probstfield J, Schmieder RE.
Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodium excretion. JAMA. 2011 May 4;305(17):1777-85. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.574. Authors: Stolarz-Skrzypek K1, Kuznetsova T, Thijs L, Tikhonoff V, Seidlerová J, Richart T, Jin Y, Olszanecka A, Malyutina S, Casiglia E, Filipovský J, Kawecka-Jaszcz K, Nikitin Y, Staessen JA; European Project on Genes in Hypertension (EPOGH) Investigators.