Little by little, the chef adds salt until they find the perfect balance of savory, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Salt seasons our favorite dishes and creates delicious flavors when we cook.
Understanding the world of salt can help you create satisfying meals and a healthy body.
By now you’ve probably heard the advice to watch your salt intake. After all, too much salt in your diet causes water retention and raises your blood pressure. Increased blood pressure may strain essential organs in your body, creating a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Learning about the perils of certain substances can cause us to react in extreme ways, cutting out entire food groups or nutrients. But our bodies depend on some salt to survive, so we cannot take an all or nothing approach. Like most things, there is a middle ground to discover.
Salt is a mineral made up of the elements sodium + chlorine. When we get just enough salt, the sodium helps to regulate water balance helping us stay hydrated, supporting digestion, and keeping our blood pressure in a healthy range, supporting the circulatory system. So when it comes to salt, too much or too little causes problems. If you exercise vigorously, attend hot yoga classes, or take saunas or steam baths regularly, consider adding a dash of salt and a squeeze of lemon to your water for a hydrating sugar-free sports drink.
Salt, alongside sugar, is added to many packaged foods to boost flavor. And most of us are consuming much more salt (and sugar) than we need when we eat processed and packaged foods. To stay healthy, eating whole, unprocessed foods and taking time to cook balanced meals may be the ticket for longevity and a healthy life.
Building some knowledge around salt is key. How much can we consume? Is it important to purchase idolized salt? And, what type of salt should we be using?
How much can we consume?
Healthy individuals need 1,500-2,000 mg of sodium per day to keep the body in prime shape… only 3/4 – 1 teaspoon! People diagnosed with high blood pressure or congestive heart failure are often prescribed a low-salt diet by their physicians to prevent further complications.
Since the daily quota is so small, choosing the type of salt is important. And becoming aware of sodium added to packaged and processed foods can be eye opening. Moving toward real foods and away from packaged foods will prevent the water retention and blood pressure changes that occur with excess salt.
Is it important to purchase idolized salt?
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “We can get iodine naturally by eating saltwater fish and seafood, kelp and other sea vegetables as well as vegetables grown in soils that contain iodine. Dairy products also provide iodine if the animals graze on plants growing in iodine-rich soils. However, don’t depend on processed foods that are high in sodium for iodine – the salt they contain is not iodized. Many Americans are iodine deficient so it’s a good idea to use iodized salt.”
What type of salt should we be using?
Not all salt is created equal. Table salt is stripped of minerals and contaminants and then mixed with aluminum compounds that have anti-caking properties. Sea Salt, on the other hand, comes in refined and unrefined varieties without additives. You can go to the grocery store and see pink Himalayan salts, sea salt from different places around the world, kosher salt, and table salt. There are so many varieties of salt, it may feel overwhelming. To help you sift through all of these incredible choices, here is a quick overview of your healthy options, created by Dr. Andrew Weil in his article Sizing Up Salt?
Kosher salt: This coarse-textured salt dissolves quickly and can be used for any kind of cooking. Kosher salt is not “kosher” in the sense that other foods may be – the name comes from the fact that it is used for drawing the blood out of meat, a step in the koshering process.
Sea salt: Natural sea salt comes from evaporated seawater and is harvested all over the world. Depending on where they come from, commercial brands of sea salt usually contain a variety of trace minerals that may influence the taste and color of the product. Raw sea salt is often grayish-white, sometimes pink or orange. Sea salt can be fine or coarse in texture and comes as crystals and flakes.
Fleur de Sel: Another prized salt. Fleur del sel means “flowers of salt” in French and is so-called because the crystals look like lacy snowflakes. Fleur de sel is white because the salt crystals don’t come in contact with the clay beds in which seawater concentrates. It is harvested from the surface of the water where it forms when winds are calm and the weather is warm.
Many other types of salt are available, including pink salt from Peru and the Himalayas, red salt from Hawaii, black volcanic salt – all with distinctive trace minerals – as well as smoked and other flavored salts.
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Although the nutrient value is the same, we prefer sea salt over table salt for regular cooking because it contains fewer additives and offers trace minerals retained from the natural harvesting process. Plus Himalayan, black volcanic salts, or Flour de Sel can be mixed into special dishes or offered as a beautiful display of seasoning options at the dinner table.