Human beings, as a whole, are deeply conflicted about salt. It is perhaps the main seasoning in kitchens across the world, responsible for bringing out the true flavors of meats, vegetables and even sweets. Most self-respecting cooks wouldn’t dream of trying to work without it, and besides, research now shows that it is necessary to our diets. On the other hand, salt also has a bad rap for causing health problems and ruining our palates.
Luckily, reaping the benefits of salt without harming the body is possible. Understanding the exact issues at stake and choosing the right salt sources in future helps benefit both health and taste buds at the same time.
An Epic History
Salt played a role in earliest humanity. Almost 5,000 years ago, experts in China were writing treatises about the proper extraction and use of salt. In almost every part of the world throughout recorded history, salt has played an important role in trade and commerce, proving its primary place in human life. In the last century or so, however, salt’s role in our diets has exploded, leading to health hazards and bodily disruptions.
The Evils of Salt
Salt, especially the table salt most people consume at home and those in processed foods, can contribute to many health problems. Because salt attracts water, an excess of salt in the diet can lead to too much water in the blood, overloading the cardiovascular system, which in turn can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease. Other downsides include stomach cancer, osteoporosis, vascular dementia and kidney problems.
But salt isn’t all bad. It is used for many fundamental bodily processes, including tissue formation, hormone synthesis, enzymatic processes and balancing of bodily fluids. Therefore it is very important that people get enough of the right kinds of salt.
But Salt Is Salt, Right?
Unfortunately, not all salts are created equal. Some salts are harvested from the sea or aboveground sources and subjected to minimal processing before sale. These often contain trace minerals necessary to health.
Others, like typical table salt (otherwise known as refined salt), are mined and heavily processed to remove most of their impurities before they are marketed. However, since this also causes salt to cake, refined salts also contain anti-caking additives to keep them flowing freely when poured. And in response to public health concerns, explains Authority Nutrition, most contain iodine. While iodine is a vital ingredient for health, anticaking agents are not, which makes typical table salt a less-than-ideal choice.
Luckily, the rising trend toward public health consciousness has made many more types of salt available in recent decades. There are several varieties of mineral-specific salt, such as calcium chloride and potassium chloride. Other mineral salt types, still predominantly composed of sodium chloride, have recently hit grocery store and online shelves too. Which to choose will depend on each individual’s specific needs and the benefits they are looking for.
Although calcium chloride does pose minor health threats in major concentrations, these are unlikely to occur at the levels at which most people consume salt. Besides, research on cats has found that diets high in calcium chloride support healthy body weight and bone growth, and reduce levels of calcium in the kidneys as well as phosphorous in the body, which keeps kidneys healthy.
Potassium chloride is essential to the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. While sodium chloride puts one at risk for hypertension and high blood pressure, potassium chloride helps minimize these dangers by regulating bodily processes. Subbing this salt in can benefit health hugely, but people should avoid it if they already have high blood-potassium levels, kidney failure, Addison’s disease, burns, are dehydrated or taking diuretics, says drugs.com.
Other Mineral Salts
Many mineral salts still have sodium chloride as their base. Rather than being harvested from underground deposits and heavily processed, mineral salts are left mostly intact. Accordingly, they possess a lot of the trace elements that help the human body function well, such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. In addition, these mineral salts usually contain lower amounts of sodium. Whole mineral salts hail from all around the world, including the Himalayas, Hawaii, Cypress, Poland, Vietnam … you name it.
How to Use Mineral Salts
Keep in mind that even mineral salts can throw off the body’s proper balance when people fail to use them in moderation. Used wisely, however, mineral salts are a great substitute for a healthful diet. They make a flavorful addition to meals of all types, and using salts from all around the world will add regional flavor differences to pique the palate.
The takeaway? Salt isn’t inherently bad for health. And a few small changes can result in a healthier, tastier way of life.