Is Natural Sea Salt Better ?

One google search is all that it takes to realize that there is a lot of confusion about the health benefits of natural sea salt and others such as Himalayan salt.

These natural types of salts are not nearly as processed or refined as our typical table salt. They are present in their natural form, and do not have all the additives and drying agents that table salt has. The question is this, is natural sea salt better for us? (Or any other all-natural salt?)

To answer this question, I’ll bring you through the arguments and the evidence (or lack of it) to support each argument.

The benefits of natural sea salt

Although many of the all-natural salt brands like to distinguish themselves from the crowd by attacking the purity of other types of all-natural salt, many of their arguments for better health are similar, if not the same.

The common arguments for natural salts include benefits from their lack of processing, benefits since the salt is all-natural and free from pollution and toxins, benefits because its crystalline structure is in its natural form, and proof shown from a clinical study.  Let’s dive into these arguments.

A natural substitute

The reason natural salt captures attention is because it is salt the way it exists in. It has all the trace minerals that would normally be included in salt and comes directly to us without large amounts of processing like table salt.

Table salt is 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% drying agents,627355 including iodine.  In Himalayan salt scientists have found up to 92 trace minerals that table salt does not contain.1 Although slightly lower in sodium chloride content, the difference is not substantial.  They both contain sodium chloride, despite what some sources claim.

Do the trace minerals from natural sea salts help us?

Some ‘experts’ state that the trace minerals benefit our health.  While I’ll be the first to jump on the trace mineral bandwagon, the only scientific article I could find touting the benefits of natural sea salt was a bit lame.  It sounded good, but the references were largely from the 50’s and 60’s and there were not many of them in the first place.1 That does not mean they don’t, but there is no evidence at this point that they do.

Why? The trace minerals found are present in such low quantities that they can’t affect our health. To really make a difference they would need to be present in much greater amounts. Be glad as they include cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury!2

Pollutants in natural sea salt and other natural salts

Moving on to the next argument: that all-natural salt is free from pollutants.  At a glance this seems like a great case for all-natural salt. Typically, less human interference is a good thing.  People are afraid of toxins contaminating their food.  Heck, so am I.  It makes sense to go for a product that has not been chemically refined.  The idea of table salt and its additives not being pure is a legitimate question. But is table salt worse for you because of the additives and refining process?

Miners extract salt deep within the earth before it gets to our food. Samples are taken in the salt mine when it is discovered to see if mining it is worth the time and money. If they do decide to mine it they make large sectional cuts throughout the salt and insert dynamite. The salt is literally blown into big pieces so that they can extract it easily.

After extraction, the salt goes through several purification processes to remove meatal and other contaminants. The process involves a lot of magnets and graters. A very efficient process, the content at the end is 99.99% sodium chloride before they mix the additives into the salt.  Getting to the point, the additives in table salt serve two purposes.  Number one, they give us the iodine we need in our diet, and number two, they keep the salt from caking.

Does this process actually hurt our health?

We cannot just assume that the processing hurts us without evidence. On a personal level, maybe you are allergic to something in table salt and you have found that you feel better if you avoid it. That is perfectly fine and I encourage that for you, but as a general rule I have not been able to find evidence that shows the detrimental effects of table salt additives. I encourage discussion, if you think you have found a good study on it please comment below!  I am happy to be wrong.

What are additives anyway?

It might be beneficial to talk about the nature of food additives. Additives are chemicals and ingredients that are added to the food to change the taste, texture, or perishability of the food.

The idea that “chemicals” are added sounds bad, but really everything in the world is made from chemicals. Popular food additives can be familiar, such as vanilla extract or yeast, or they can be unfamiliar, such as tricalcium phosphate or magnesium carbonates (both of which are in table salt).

It is important to note that first, all food additives recieve approval by many different organizations after extensive human testing. The Committee on Toxicity approved all the different additives way back in 1988 (as well as being approved by the Food and Drug Administration) and ever since they continue to be tested to ensure their safety.

Crystal Structure of natural salts

The third common argument for all-natural salts (Typically mined salts, Himalayan etc.) involves the retaining of their natural crystalline structure.

As a proponent of Himalayan salt, Dr. Mercola states on his website that “The connectedness” (of the crystals) “allows the vibrational component of the 84 trace elements present in their natural mineral form in the salt to be in harmony with each other and adds to the ability to promote a healthy balance.”3

Let me preface my comments by saying that Dr. Mercola has some great ideas which I believe have really helped people with their health over the years.  However, this statement, and many like it, are not based on a shred of scientific evidence.  Vibrational components and harmony.  It sounds more like religion that health.

Why am I making a big deal out of the salts structure and mineral content?

I am focusing on this because those marketing the product make a big deal out of it. The Himalayan Crystal Salt website goes as far as to assert that “The remaining salt by itself” (table salt after the trace minerals are removed) “is not a natural element and is poison to the body.”   To claim that a product that people use all over the world is poison is a HUGE assumption.  It must be backed up by reliable and repeatable evidence, and a lot of it.  Dr. Mercola provides none.

Clinical trials of Himalyan salt

One necessary part of any health product is that clinical studies be done to prove the products effectiveness. There are currently two clinical studies by the Himalayan Salt Company concerning the matter. (I haven’t actually been able to find one for sea salt, though I searched thoroughly)

The first study they conducted is not freely available to the public but must be read in their book. The second study (and most recent study) examines the difference between people who consume their salt vs. typical natural sea salt for a month.

The results showed that the group that consumed their product compared to the sea salt scored better on an “Optimal Wellness test” after 30 days.  Of course, they consider the results Ground-breaking.  But there is a big problem with this study. If you were to find incredible results from a study like this you would have your methods and results go through peer-review (critique from scientists you are not connected to) and submit your research article to be published.

Why is that so important?

Simple, because of bias. If you are paying a company to do research for your product there can be an extreme conflict of interest. Peer review of a study that shows the tiny details of how you conducted the experiment serves two purposes.  First, it protects us from lies and second, it protects them from accusations of lying.

My point is that there needs to be better clinical trials with all-natural salt. Maybe there is some slight benefit, but as of now we have no proof, despite what many say.

What now?

Whether you are eating all natural salts or table salt you are still getting roughly the same amount of sodium. When it comes to high blood pressure sodium is one of the biggest culprits.4  Many would have you believe that all natural is a healing form of salt, while table salt is corrosive and bad for your health. The truth is that we all need salt, just in moderation. You should be getting between 1,500-2,300 mg of sodium a day based on current recommendations from the American Heart Association.  Both very high and very low intakes of salt carry big risks for heart disease. I would not worry about getting too little, however, as most people have an average intake of 3,200 mg of sodium per day.  That’s too much!5

Where should you cut down on salt?

According to the American Heart Association, we add about 20% of our sodium intake. Thus, 80% of our sodium is hiding in the food we buy. Decreasing the amount of sodium we eat needs to start in the supermarket by buying healthier options.

References

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