Posted on in On Our Radar by Melissa Kushi

Dispelling the Myths


Until recently salt has been known as an ally for longevity, food preservation, and the development of culture. It makes everything taste better, especially popcorn and fries, but popular impressions suggest that salt is bad for us. Is this really true?

Why Is Salt Important?

Our bodies don’t produce salt. Indeed, no electrolyte is more essential. Salt maintains the acid balance in the body, potassium absorption, ion exchange, and it boosts the blood’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the tissues. Salt supplies crucial stomach acids and supports the adrenals, which produce vital hormones. Balancing the body fluids and helping to regulate blood pressure, it also helps the brain communicate with our muscles.

Beyond firing neurons in the brain, salt also increases the glial cells. Our friends the glial cells are responsible for creative thinking, problem solving, long-term planning, and—as I have long suspected—mood and outlook. The National Institutes of Health is currently studying the importance of glial cells for proper brain function, with strong evidence indicating that mood disorders are associated with abnormalities in the brain’s cellular composition, especially in glial cells.

A study at the University of Iowa has found that the sodium-deprived take less pleasure in daily activities and often show signs of fatigue and depression. But don’t go reaching for the salt shaker just yet! Quality and type of salt—along with an alkaline diet and healthy lifestyle—are fundamental to well-being.

What’s on Your Plate?

All salts are not created equal. From current ocean waters to ancient sea deposits, source and processing determine quality.

Unrefined or Processed?

Unrefined salt contains natural minerals and trace elements required by the body in order to assimilate sodium chloride, which is all that is left in chemically stripped table salt. With out minerals, enzymes that support our major organ systems are impeded. Isolated sodium chloride doesn’t fully assimilate with body fluids. Salt needs to contain the full spectrum of essential minerals and trace elements in whole form in order to work properly in the body.

Table salt has little in common with natural, unrefined salt. It is chemically processed to remove all minerals and trace elements (including iodine). Anti-caking and flow agents are added, and it’s then re-iodized through a synthesized spray via a corn/dextrose base.

Eating a non-GMO diet? Think again! Many believe that because salt doesn’t have DNA, it can’t be GMO. However, it can be contaminated during iodization. Dextrose, derived from hydrolyzed conventional cornstarch, a GMO product, is added as a stabilizer due to the fragile nature of synthesized iodine. Any product that has added iodine is not GMO free.

Table salt, including a number of sea salts, are iodized. Iodine is important, yet if you are aiming for a non-GMO diet, look for the NonGMO Project Verified Seal, and eat a diet rich in sea vegetables such as kombu, arame, hiziki, wakame, and kelp. (Post-Fukushima, I buy my sea veggies from a small producer on the Maine coast.) Other vegan sources of foods naturally high in iodine are organic cranberries, navy beans, strawberries, and potatoes. Animal foods include shellfish, seafood, and yogurt.

Sea salt, from fleur de sel to bamboo salt, all comes from current ocean waters.

Quality of water and location of harvest are key. There are hopefully still pristine waters; however, the majority of oceans today suffer pollution. From industrial and nuclear runoff to oil spills and microparticles of plastic, know your source.

Black salt, or kala namak, is mined in India, and has a strong sulfuric flavor and aroma. Unrefined, it’s mostly used to season Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s gaining in popularity with vegan chefs to impart an egg-like flavor to foods.

Kosher salt refers to two types of salt. The one most commonly called “kosher salt” has larger grains, with the name originating from its use in curing meat.

“Kosher certified” is third-party verified in handling and processing to the standards of Jewish dietary law. This does not necessarily mean it is free from anti-caking and flow agents. The FDA doesn’t require disclosure of additives in salt, so unless it states “No additives” on the packaging, there’s no way to be certain.

Himalayan salt. Before the Himalayas rose, the area was covered in ancient ocean. When the Indian and Tibetan plates collided over 200 million years ago, vast quantities of ocean water were pulled in between the plates through subduction. Through extreme geological compression, high pressure, and temperature, this ocean water was crystallized and deposited in what are now the foothills of the Himalayan range.

Beside sodium and chloride, Himalayan salt contains necessary trace amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, sulfur, and zinc. It also contains trace amounts of iodine; however, it does not meet the recommended daily requirement.

Just as chocolate, coffee, and diamonds have differing grades, so does Himalayan salt. Many believe the dark pink and even darker red grains are better, but this is not so. Darker, milky, or opaque Himalayan salt are “surface” grains—cheap and plentiful. The lighter the color, the higher the quality, without loss of trace elements and minerals.

Whatever the type of salt you prefer, know your source and read the labels. By researching and supporting brands that share your values, you can be assured of quality while using your shopping cart as a tool for social change.

Melissa Kushi, founder of HimalaSalt, is a social entrepreneur who gives 5% of profits and her time to sustainable agriculture and young farmer education.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.