Last week I posted about my quest to understand what salt is and where it comes from here. I was trying to understand what salt is and how and why one type of salt varies from another type of salt. There was a big elephant in the room that I didn’t address:
Is salt good for us? Is salt bad for us?
From what I have been able to glean there is actually a fairly nuanced answer to this, in that we all thrive on different amounts of salt. I am not a scientist, a doctor or nutritionist so I defer to Sally Morrel in Nourishing Traditions:
Salt provides not only sodium but also chloride, needed for the manufacture of hydrochloride acid, proper functioning of the brain and nervous system and for many other processes. The chloride opponent of salt also activities amylase, needed for the digestion of carbohydrate foods.
The need for salt varies according to the individual. People with weak adrenal glands lose salt in their urine and must have plentiful salt in the diet, but for others excessive salt consumption causes calcium to be excreted in the urine and may contribute to osteoporosis. Excessive salt in the diet also deletes potassium.
The standard line is that high levels of salt in the diet is linked with high blood pressure. The fact is that not everyone has high blood pressure and in fact many people like me have quite low blood pressure. Therefore salt should not be a major risk factor for me. Also, reducing salt intake affects different people in different ways.
The current guidelines in Britain are that salt consumption should be limited to 6g per day for adults. This is primarily because reducing salt intake for certain patients with high blood pressure seems to have a beneficial effect. However, the Weston A Price Foundation has a number of interesting articles on salt. It helpfully balances such conclusions showing how different people respond to salt in their diet:
With major reductions in salt (more than half of our current consumption), about 30 percent of the population will experience a slight drop (2-6 mm) in systolic BP, while about 20 percent will see a similar increase in BP, and the remaining 50 percent of the population will show no effect at all. (Source)
We often hear about the dangers of salt, but at the other end of the scale, sodium and chloride are needed for various functions in the body and an absence of these chemicals can actually cause serious complications.
A historical perspective
Salt has been eaten, and traded, for thousands of years. Many of man’s oldest trade routes seem to have been formed for the buying and selling of salt, showing how highly it was valued. It was crucial for curing meats and preserving foods so there must have been a much higher intake of salt in nearly every age pre-refrigeration. This is not to say that salt is fine to eat in large quantities, but it is worth looking at present recommendations in the light of this historical context.
So which salt?
Finally, It does matter which salt you are eating. The basic ingredient is the same, but table salt has added extras that you don’t want (anti-caking agent) and unrefined sea salt or rock salt have extras that you do want. Magnesium, iodine, zinc, iron, sulfates are some of these extras which you really do want to add to your body. These are essential minerals and are good for the body, but they are even more essential in the age of industrial farming. Poor soil quality and dependence on fertilisers is producing meat and vegetables which are sub-standard in the mineral department. I guess you can always take a pill for vitamin and mineral deficiencies but surely it is better to eat what your body needs rather than take it in pill form?
Another wise word from Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions:
The best and most health-promoting salt is extracted by the action of the sun on seawater in clay-lined vats. It’s light grey colour indicates a high moisture and trace mineral content. This natural salt contains only about 82 percent sodium chloride; it contains about 14 percent macro-minerals, particularly magnesium, and nearly 80 trace minerals. The best and purest commercially available source of unrefined sea salt is the natural salt marshes of Brittany, where it is “farmed” according to ancient methods. Red Sea salt from Hawaii is also an excellent product, but it is not readily available in the US. Unrefined salt mined from ancient Seabeds contains many trace minerals and is theoretically acceptable as long as it comes from areas where nuclear testing has not occurred nor where nuclear wastes are stored. However, it will lack organic iodine from the minute bits of plant life that are preserved in moist Celtic sea salt.
So which salt will I be buying? French Guerande sea salt.
In fact, it is sitting in my salt pig right now in all its mineral rich goodness. Bought in a 1kg bag, in large grains, it is fairly economical at £2.09 per kilo at Ocado (Usually with an extra discount if you buy two bags). This is considerably cheaper than buying it from Amazon or from any other source that I can find. Please do say in the comments if you know anywhere where you can buy it cheaper. Fine salt or the prized ‘fleur de del’ is much more expensive, but you may find it worth the extra if you value salt in this form.
It is worth noting that although this salt is wonderfully rich in minerals, it is slightly ‘odd’ that it is slightly wet and very coarse. I don’t usually have too many problems with it, I use it to make bread and soups and casseroles and it is fine. However, if you would like to make it a more sprinklable size, I believe that grinding a small amount in a pestle and mortar is the way to go. You can even slightly dry it in the oven before use if you would like it to go in your salt grinder.
We don’t eat a lot of processed food with hidden extra salt, so I am going to continue with my policy of using salt to taste. We will enjoy it and feel no guilt!