Salting

Tasman Salt offers 100% Pure Tasmanian Sea Flakes for sale. I like to support Tasmanian businesses but do we need to add salt to our meals at all? Is that simply an historical practice worn in by habit when it’s not needed by the body?

Friend A told me ‘A few years ago, a friend informed me of the virtues and health qualities of good salt. I am aware of the danger of consuming too much sodium chloride.’ She went on to say ‘When I read your article on olives I was reminded that with my first foray into brining olives I used Olsson’s sea salt from South Australia. The information on the Olsson’s sea salt makes it sound very good. I have loved salt of any kind all my life and have over used it for most of my life.’

I wondered whether there are good and bad sodium based salts.

In response I told her ‘Even though I knew that salt increases blood pressure or produces irregular blood pressure, for some totally unexplained reason I persisted with the idea that I was able to continue to eat lots of salt because I like it and wanted to do so, and that somehow it wouldn’t affect me. Anyway about a month ago I decided to stop adding salt when cooking and eating my meals to see if it would make a difference. I was very surprised (but shouldn’t have been) to find my blood pressure on the last few occasions has been in the nicely normal range. Previously it had been 145, 158, 169 etc over 101, 94 etc. Appalling numbers. It has been so easily changed. Of course it is a shame that the evidence is so clear to me now because I love two things; fat and salt. Over the past two years I have cut out the foods with significant saturated fat and fried foods, and now I have cut out additional salt. My body is happy for it and over time all that excess sodium will disappear from the tissues of my body.’ These days I obtain salt naturally from celery and traces in other vegetables, occasional seafood, olives and Campbells Stock.

Despite my personal experiment,  I wanted to know more about salt.  Why are claims made that some salt is better for you than others? Surely, I thought, this is a marketing ploy to have customers choose one kind over another. These promotions imply we all need added salt, but do we?

The simple chemistry breakdown is that roughly 39% of salt is sodium and 61% chloride. It stands to reason that salts mined from different sources would be only slightly different depending on where they was mined; that is, while salt always comes out of the ground or from the ocean in different parts of the Earth, the trace minerals will differ from location to location. The trace mineral content in salt is tiny as the following examples show; refer to information about Himalayan salt, seawater , and USA rock salt.

What about the anti-caking agents used in some salts? The International Food Information Council Foundation says anti-caking agents  ‘are added typically at less than 5 percent of the total weight and have tremendous impacts on the functionality of the ingredient.’

Where anti-caking agents are added, sometimes most if not all trace minerals are stripped from the natural salts, so that the product becomes almost pure sodium chloride except for the anti-caking agents added. Some suppliers argue their salts are better if the trace minerals haven’t been removed – but remember the quantity is miniscule in the first place. Regardless, these anti-caking agents and trace elements are not the ingredients which may lead you to have a heart attack or which endanger the health of your blood cells. It is the excess sodium, always the sodium that you must fear. Therefore, no specific salt is better for you than another. Conversely all salts more or less equally endanger your health.  The Mayo Clinic says ‘Sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight.’

Recently a TV chef mentioned that water in which to cook pasta should be salted to taste like the ocean. But can we change our taste buds to appreciate the subtle flavours if the pasta flours, or add flavoursome sauces so that added salt becomes unnecessary? Friends who try and remove added salt from their diet complain their food is bland. I suggest they add one or more of the following – herbs and spices from countries such as Mexico, Italy, India, Thailand, China; and/or chilli, garlic, galangal, lemon or lime juice, lemon grass, turmeric, tahini, nut pastes, honey, mint, parsley, tomato pastes, miso (which being so salty naturally should be eaten sparingly), and different flavoured oils (my favourites are flaxseed oil, sesame oil and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil).

Our bodies need some salt but remember that any normal diet offers sufficient amounts. Vegetables contain small amounts of sodium naturally so, for me as a vegan, the past months have been a time of changing my behaviour. Those with a smidgin of  natural salt content include: celery, carrot, spinach, chard, beetroot, olives, and chick peas. Don’t forget dairy and meat products; seafood such as boiled prawns, canned tuna, salmon and sardines; or raw oysters and boiled lobster if you want sodium in your food without adding the taste enhancers I listed above.

So what is the future relationship between me and Tasman Salt or any other branded salt?  Maybe I will use them for brining olives, but I will always remember it is the sodium in additional salt, wherever the salt comes from and however it has been treated, that does the damage to our bodies.

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