More salt? Less salt? What kind of salt and what’s the difference? I am going to tell you that you should be eating adequate salt, but it needs to be the right kind.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
There are a few kinds of salts. Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. “Table salt” is the industrialized, chemically-produced, cheap salt that makes things salty but requires much effort for us to metabolize. Industrial table salt is sodium chloride composed in a factory, with added, questionable anti-caking agents so that the small, identical crystals don’t stick to one another and instead create a fine white powder (hmmm…) that can easily come out of a salt shaker.
“Iodized table salt” is industrially “enriched” with iodine. I recommend you actually get your iodine from somewhere else, like seaweed, shellfish, or other sea foods.
“Fast food” and industrially processed foods, packaged for a long shelf life are “enriched” with industrially-derived salt. Avoid them. The natural fats and nutrients have been removed to make these industrial foods “low fat.” But when you remove fat, you need to add sugar, and we already know what eating sugar does to us.
The Real Deal
By contrast, we are better suited to consume unique and unevenly formed sea salt crystals – minerals in seawater that crystallize and dry in the sun. Sea salt contains dozens of elements that are the very building blocks of our bodies.
In his book, The Salt Fix, Dr. DiNcolantonio observes that our own mineral content mirrors that of seawater. He also contends that reduced salt intake elevates insulin, increases one’s heart rate, reduces sex drive, and leads to sleep disturbances. Salt is necessary for the heart, kidneys, brain, and indeed, all our tissues, to function. And pathologically elevated insulin levels lead to the many chronic health conditions we see today.
Salt Three Ways
Traditionally, those living near the seas had access to salt by eating fish and salt from the sea. There are still salt beds in France, dating back to the Middle Ages, being managed and harvested by hand today in the old fashioned way. These are what we know as Celtic sea salts, which come in three sizes: Fine sea salt (sel de mer fin) is simply finely ground sea salt crystals; the luxurious top layer of sea salt, fleur de sel, is used by French chefs as a delicate topping for everything from appetizers to desserts; the coarse, flavorful rocky crystals gros sel (sometimes called “kosher” in English), are typically used in stocks, flavoring dishes during cooking and for curing meats.
Salts from mines underground, such as in Utah or the mountains of Germany, Austria, and, indeed, the Himalayas, are the remnants of ancient seas. They are repositories of minerals and are what cultures living inland have used for salt for thousands of years. Often these salts are pink or multi-colored, a sign of the elements, such as iron, they contain. These are natural salts which we can consume freely. They are nourishing, essential, and make food taste great! Because of its potent flavor, less sea salt is needed than you might think to make you feel satisfied.
Avoiding White, Powdery Substances
Uniform, industrial white powders that are quickly burned in our systems, such as white sugar, white flower, and yes, table salt, are much more suspect of causing insulin responses, including high blood pressure, and are all reminiscent of another white powder that is easily abused. Just say no.
A Nod to the Wisdom of the Past
Adding a pinch of crunchy sea salt (living or ancient) on top of a dish brings out the flavor of any meal while giving you the minerals that may otherwise be missing from your diet. A few pinches a day will keep the doctor away!
Tania Teschke is a writer and photographer who is passionate about French food and wine and is the author of The Bordeaux Kitchen,: An Immersion into French Food and Wine, Inspired by Ancestral Traditions. Tania has learned from cooks, butchers, chefs, and winemakers in France and holds a diploma in wine science and tasting from the University of Bordeaux. Tania continues to explore the deep connection the French have to their land, their cultural heritage, and to the nutritional density of their foods.