Salting Away Our Future

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl) as scientists call it, can be mined from the ground or harvested from the sea. All salts, whether from the sea, salt mine, or salt marsh, can trace their origins to the ocean, which has covered different parts of the earth throughout various stages of history.

Table salt, the common salt found in most saltshakers, is refined and finely ground halite, or rock salt. Commercial table salt commonly contains some additives to keep it free-flowing. It also may be iodized (treated with iodine or an iodide). Coarse salt is the same as table salt, except it is not ground as finely, which results in larger crystals.

Sea salt is distilled from seawater and can be fine or coarsely ground. Celtic salt is an expensive version of sea salt. It is harvested by solar evaporation of water taken from the Celtic sea. If Celtic salt is not expensive enough to impress your friends, you can go for the rare and even more expensive fleur de sel salt, said to only form when the wind blows from the east over the salt marshes in Guerande, France.

Exotic salts abound. You can buy Peruvian Pink salt and Hawaiian Black Lava salt (each about $20 for a 4-ounce bottle). Not exotic enough? Try Pure Himalayan Crystal salt, said to be “white gold” because it contains eons of stored sunlight. The Himalayan Crystal website claims that what makes its salt special is the “energy-frequency pattern-lifeforceinformation- consciousness...that is locked within the crystalline structure of the salt and only waiting to be released.”1

Popular Salt Myths

Devotees claim that sea salts taste better and are nutritionally superior due to the trace amounts of minerals they contain. The truth is: Salt is salt. Tiny amounts of minerals do not diminish the health risks associated with excess sodium consumption. All of these products are sodium chloride in different sizes, shapes, textures, and prices. The different flavors that people perceive are mostly related to texture. Sea salts are composed of larger, flakier crystals. When you bite into a larger crystal of salt you get a different hit of flavor. When you cook with sea salt, however, any differences disappear because it dissolves into the other ingredients.2

It has been suggested that some salts marketed as being “sea” salts may be just larger chunks mined from the same caverns as regular salt. Deceptive advertising? After all, all salt did originally come from the sea. But what’s the difference? Even if a particular brand of salt actually had significantly larger amounts of minerals than other brands, it would still be a harmful product.

There are no nutritional benefits to consuming a particular type of salt. Even the so-called “mineral-rich” salts are more than 98% sodium chloride. The amounts of trace minerals are negligible and have no significant effect on human health. For example, Celtic salt contains 2400 mg of sodium per teaspoon, the same as almost all other salts. If you consumed a half a teaspoon on your food that day, you would take in a whopping 1200 mg of extra salt, and the “trace minerals” would be insignificant compared to the minerals ingested in the foods you ate. Your best source of minerals is food, especially vegetables, which contain all of the trace minerals you need in the amounts that are meaningful to human health.

Necessary Minerals

There are two groups of minerals— major minerals and trace minerals. We need more than 100 mg per day of each of the major minerals: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, sodium, and chloride. We need smaller amounts (less than 100 mg per day) of the trace minerals: iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, copper, chromium, manganese, and molybdenum. The consumption of sea salts results in dangerously high amounts of sodium and does not supply adequate amounts of the trace minerals needed by humans. Sea salt does not contain iodine, which is commonly added to table salt.

Considering the known dangers involved in consuming salt, it is a troubling phenomenon that some alternative health authorities and health organizations promote (and sell) specialty salts to their clientele, ignoring (and sometimes denying) that their special salts raise blood pressure like every other form of sodium chloride. The unsubstantiated health claims often made for these expensive, harmful products are astounding.


Sodium In Foods You Eat

The human body was designed to derive its nutrient needs from naturally occurring food. If you simply ate natural foods without adding salt, you would most likely consume about 500-750 mg of sodium each day. Since real food supplies the type, assortment, and amount of minerals needed to maximize health, there is no advantage to adding special salts to your diet. Today, most areas of the world consume 10 times as much sodium as a natural “unsalted” diet provides.

Ancestral Diet

The industrial era has been affecting our diet for only a span of 5–10 generations. The processed food era that is so prevalent today really only started after World War I, two to three generations ago.

Since almost all Americans and people in other modern industrialized societies consume so much salt, we have to look at isolated or primitive populations to really see the long term effects (i.e., benefits) of low salt intake. Certain tribes in New Guinea, the Amazon Basin, the highlands of Malaysia, and rural Uganda all eat very little salt. In these regions, hypertension is unheard of, and blood pressure does not rise steadily with age as it does in the United States and other countries with high salt intakes. The most elderly members of these populations have blood pressure readings seen only in children in industrial countries. When salt is introduced into these salt-free cultures, however, blood pressure climbs.4

Maximum Protection

For maximum disease prevention, sodium levels should be held to the levels that are normal to our biological needs—under 1000 mg per day. High-sodium diets lead to high blood pressure, which causes an estimated two-thirds of all strokes and almost half of all heart attacks. According to the National Institute of Health consuming less sodium is one of the single most important ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.5 The most commonly cited behaviors that lead to maximal health and disease prevention and reversal are: not smoking; maintaining a healthy, slim body weight; eating a high-nutrient-dense diet rich in vegetables and fruits; and limiting trans fat and saturated fat. But avoiding excess sodium ranks right up there alongside them. Excess sodium consumption is a primary killer in our modern toxic food environment, but it is all too often overlooked by most people until it is too late to do anything about it.

Natural foods contain about .5 mg of sodium per calorie or less. If you are trying to keep the sodium level in your diet to a safe level, avoid foods that have more sodium than calories per serving. It would be impossible to consume too much (or too little) sodium if a person just ate a healthful diet of real food in its natural state.

If your daily intake of whole natural foods consists of about 2000 calories, your daily intake of sodium will be less than 1000 mg. By comparison, the average adult sodium intake in the United States is around 4000 mg for every 2000 calories consumed. Americans are not alone in their dangerous overconsumption of sodium. Most of the world’s population consumes 2300–4600 mg of sodium each day (1–2 teaspoons of salt). I suggest that you should not add more than 200–300 mg of extra sodium to your diet over and above what is in natural foods. That allows you to have one serving of something each day that has some sodium added to it, but all other foods should have only the sodium that Mother Nature put in them.


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