I’ve been intrigued with a lot of the press recently around different types of salts, which salt is better, and especially if any are healthy. There’s a lot of information out there, but here’s my summary:
Salt in General
Salt is a crystalline mineral that is mined from various deposits found in the earth or evaporated from saltwater bodies – either lakes or ocean. Salt is made of two elements, sodium (NA) and chlorine (Cl). Both are essential for life in humans and animals for several reasons. Some of the health benefits of unrefined salt are:
- Salt aids blood sugar control by improving insulin sensitivity. A low-salt diet actually increases insulin resistance (see study #1 and study #2)
- It’s a natural antihistamine and may improve an allergic reaction or an asthma attack (source).
- Salt lowers adrenaline spikes. Adrenaline is an important stress hormone and sometimes necessary (fight or flight responses), but if it’s out of sync, it can take a toll on the body.
- Adequate salt intake supports balanced hormones. Read more about this from nutrition researcher Ray Peat.
- Salt helps the brain and nerves send electrical impulses.
- Acceptable salt consumption encourages a faster metabolism and healthy weight by eliminating unhealthy blood cortisol levels (see study).
- Salt can improve sleep quality due to its suppression of stress hormones and increasing the metabolic rate.
- Because salt supports balanced hormones and reduces stress hormones, it supports thyroid function.
Regular table salt is the most used, and the most refined. Providers grind it heavily and remove most of the impurities and minerals. It is almost pure sodium chloride – 97% or more. One of the biggest issues is clumping when it’s ground this heavily. Other powdery foods will do this too, and therefore anti-clumping compounds will be added to help it flow more freely. Under U.S. law, table salt can have up to 2% of additives, which are usually the anti-clumping compounds (ferrocyanide, talc, and silica aluminate are commonly included) and iodine.
Sea salt is mostly just sodium chloride, but instead of being mined from salt deposits, it’s made by evaporating sea water. It usually does contain more trace minerals like zinc, potassium and iron, but it can also contain contaminates (like lead) depending on where in the world’s oceans it is taken from. Natural sea salt will be off-white and moist.
Sea salt isn’t ground down as much as refined salt and is often coarser. Because of this, it may have a different feel in your mouth and give you a “burst” of salt flavor when chewed. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, it has about the same nutritional value as table salt.
This type has a flaky, coarse look, and is primarily used in the Jewish religion. Since Jewish law requires that all blood be extracted from meat before it is eaten, the structure of this salt aids in its extraction.
Many chefs like to use kosher salt for this very reason, depending on the type of meat that they are cooking and the finished result they want to achieve. Otherwise, it is less likely to have additives and iodine, but is comparable to table salt.
Himalayan is mined from ancient sea beds in Pakistan and often contains trace amounts of iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The pink color is due to trace amounts of iron oxide. It usually has a lower sodium content than regular salt. It looks pretty in mills and keepers, and adds a burst of flavor, especially with fish like salmon. Many health experts agree that Himalayan salt is better than most of the others because of its purity and higher mineral content.
Originally became popular in France, where it is harvested off the Brittany coast in the north. It is harvested using the Celtic method of wooden rakes that doesn’t allow any metal to touch the salt, thereby preserving its living enzymes. It is air and sun-dried in clay ponds. It has a light grayish color and is quite moist. Many are coming to realize that this salt is better than some of the others, but its moisture content makes grinding it at home difficult without a specialty mill.
Mills and Keepers
Unrefined salts need special mills to grind them. A regular pepper mill usually won’t grind them effectively, or will corrode from the salt’s natural acids. We offer several salt mills that have adjustable grinds with lifetime warranties on the grinding mechanism. Salt keepers (that are not metal) are also a nice addition if you’d like to use a “pinch” or spoon it onto your food.
Which is Better?
Bottom line, depending on what you’re cooking and using it for, any unrefined salt is better for you, and can be used in moderation. Choose the type that is best for what you’re cooking and the amount of salty taste you want. Just be sure it’s not overly processed. Sometimes a cheaper cost indicates it’s more processed. Personally, I think refined (table) salt should be avoided.