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Awash with Sea Salt

July 7, 2011 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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The other day I was winding my way through the crowds at the Public Market in Granville Island in Vancouver when a pretty display of sea salts caught my eye. The salts were arranged neatly in little containers with clear lids showing off their delicate colours.  Sea salt has become gourmet.

That encounter got me thinking about sea salt. In contrast to regular table salt, most of which comes from salt mines, sea salt has developed a halo of health.  Sea salt is perceived as more natural, less refined and thus healthier than table salt. This is not the case. There are a number of health claims circulating on the Internet for unrefined sea salts in particular. These health claims have not been substantiated by scientific research.  In addition to their main component of sodium chloride, unrefined sea salts contain small amounts of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and sulphur, along with trace amounts of many other minerals. It is these added minerals that form the basis of the unsubstantiated health claims. However, most sea salts are washed to remove impurities, and as a result their mineral composition is actually very similar to table salt—which is almost entirely composed of sodium chloride (NaCl).

Since it is the sodium (Na+) in both sea and table salt that raises blood pressure, and the sodium composition is virtually the same for sea and table salts, sea salt is no better for you. Sea salts, like any salts, are best when used in very small amounts as it is easy to exceed both the recommended daily amount (1500 mg) and the recommended daily upper limit for sodium (2,300 mg) for healthy adults—these limits are even lower for healthy adults over 50 years of age and for children.The amount of sodium in about one teaspoon of salt is equal to the upper limit of 2300 mg.

At home I have a few different flavoured sea salts. I use them occasionally and sparingly to accentuate the flavour of fresh produce like tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes. In addition to lowering daily sodium intake, increasing daily vegetable intake is an important strategy to prevent high blood pressure.

What are your thoughts on sea salt?

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Comments (12)

Kincaid42

Posted on Thursday July 7, 2011 a 2:34pm

Thank you for posting this as I found it very insightful. I was always told that sea salt was better that table salt but now I will have to think twice when using.

debssproule

Posted on Friday July 8, 2011 a 6:47am

Some interesting info I just read on different salts: I just read an article about Kosher, Sea and Table salts. It stated that all have the same levels of sodium but if you use Kosher salt you will get less sodium because the salt crystals are larger and so one teasoon of this salt doesn't in fact give you as much salt. I have also seen on a lot of different cooking shows that they all recommend using Kosher salt; they don't say why, maybe this is the reason. The article also said the same will occur if you use coarse sea salt (ie you end up with less salt & thus less sodium), but fine sea salt will be the same as table salt, both filling in all the space in the spoon.

eager2learn

Posted on Sunday July 10, 2011 a 1:59am

Thank you for the information, I was told that sea salt had less sodium so that it was safer to use. Our family uses alot of salt and obviously we need to find other ways of seasoning our foods. Can you provide me with alternatives that are natural, such as herbs.

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Monday July 11, 2011 a 10:25pm

Thanks for your question, eager2learn. Here are a few ideas for flavouring with herbs and spices: • Basil - tastes great with tomatoes and pasta • Cumin – adds flavour to soups, stews and sauces • Curry – good with meat, poultry and stews • Dill – wonderful with fish, potatoes and eggs • Oregano – perfect in pasta, soups and salads • Paprika – good with seafood, vegetables, potato salad and eggs • Rosemary – delicious with chicken, lamb and pork • Thyme – tasty with chicken, veal, salads and vegetables There’s also a couple of books that you might want to check out. The first one is The Herbal Kitchen, Cooking With Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld and another one called Cooking With Herbs and Spices by Craig Claiborne. Best of luck, Healthy Families BC

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Thursday July 14, 2011 a 4:41pm

Hi ‘eager2learn’, thanks for your question about salt-free seasoning. Since flavour is a combination of taste, smell and mouth feel you can develop the flavour of a dish by manipulating these three elements: 1) Smell: Herbs and spices mainly enhance the smell of foods. Try starting off with the time tested traditional combinations of herbs and spices used in classic recipes. An Internet search using the key words “using spices” will find a number of websites with food and herb/spice pairing charts and tips. For example, cumin and paprika go well with pinto and black beans. To maximize the smell, use fresh herbs and grind your own spices when possible—then add them near the end of the cooking process. There are a number of commercially available salt-free seasoning blends available in grocery stores for your convenience. 2) Taste: The five basic tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory. Excluding the salty taste, you can build on the other four elements of taste in a dish. For example, honey or molasses can be added to increases sweetness. Lemon or lime juice, and vinegars, can enhance the sour taste of a dish. Bitter tastes are found in cocoa powder, and savory tastes are found in tomatoes and seaweeds. The trick is learning to balance these so that no element is overpowering. 3) Mouth feel: Black pepper and chilies give pungency (heat) to a dish, while sour foods like lemon contribute astringency (that mouth puckering feel) to a dish. You can spend time experimenting with flavor combinations, or simply use those recommended in time-tested recipes from cultures around the world. In most home cooking recipes, the salt can be thought of as an optional ingredient—try cutting the salt back by half in your favorite recipes. I hope that this helps you get started on your path to keeping the flavor, but lowering the salt, in your family’s meals. Sincerely, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC

Bruna

Posted on Tuesday July 12, 2011 a 9:02pm

I started using sea salt after I read that there is 'invert sugar' in table salt. What is 'invert sugar'?

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Wednesday July 13, 2011 a 5:58pm

Thanks for your question Bruna. Invert sugar is table sugar (sucrose) that has been broken down into its component sugars—glucose and fructose. Invert sugar is liquid. I took your question to a Canadian salt manufacturer. They told me that either invert sugar or regular sugar (sucrose) is added to table salt in extremely small amounts (parts per million) as a carrier for the iodide, which is added to iodized table salt in order to prevent iodine deficiency in the population. The very small amount of sugar also helps to counter the bitter taste of the iodide. I hope that this has helped to answer your question. Sincerely, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC

Ms Jocelyn

Posted on Tuesday July 19, 2011 a 1:00pm

I use sea salt, but sparingly. It does bring out the flavour of foods and you don't have the iodine of table salt interfering.... I think you can use less of sea salt and get better results.

Jelvan

Posted on Wednesday July 20, 2011 a 4:13am

It has been suggested that I use Half-salt or No-salt. What is the opinion on this. Thanks

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Monday July 25, 2011 a 11:25pm

Thanks for the question, Jelvan. Salt substitutes labeled as “half-salt” or “no-salt” contain potassium chloride in place of half, or all, of the sodium chloride. Potassium chloride tastes a lot like sodium chloride, and is sometimes used by people looking to lower their sodium intake. The amount of potassium in different salt substitutes ranges from 200mg-650mg per ¼ tsp. However, to put salt substitutes into context, only about 6% of the sodium we eat comes from salt added at the table. Therefore, switching to a half-salt or no-salt product will likely only have a small impact on the amount of sodium you eat. Also, these potassium-containing salt substitutes often become bitter when heated so they are not recommended for use in cooking. Another approach might be to look for healthier options to replace salt. Try adding fresh and dried herbs, spices, vinegars, etc. to flavour your food. If you take medication for your heart, kidneys or liver or have kidney problems, it is important to speak with your doctor before using these salt substitutes. Some medications that may increase potassium levels include: • Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) • ACE inhibitors • Heparin • Cyclosporine • Trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole • Beta-blockers. For some people with kidney disease, the kidneys can not get rid of extra potassium. Levels of potassium in the blood can then rise to a harmful level. The amount of potassium tolerated by people with kidney disease varies greatly by individual. [Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/potassium-000975.htm] Sincerely, Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC

hsangel

Posted on Thursday July 21, 2011 a 4:32pm

Is No-Salt actually better for you? It tastes like chemicals...

goodcause

Posted on Tuesday August 2, 2011 a 1:52am

With the winter months coming, I will soon be preparing soups, salt free. I discovered a wonderful Turkish spice called Sumac. It has a salt, lemony, bright taste and can be sprinkled on soups, wonderful on salmon, or put in a salad. Life with out salt gets better.

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