Humans, like many other animals, crave the taste of salt. In the past, we even traded salt for equal weights of gold. Today we’re still feeling the passion, but we’re confused. Should we have more? Or less? And should we all be going for those nuggety pink granules of Himalayan salt?
Is salt really bad for you?
Before looking at the types of salt available, we need to understand what salt means for our health. For example, salt consumption is linked with high blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. But how close is this link? The need to reduce our salt intake has been drummed into us all. However, the scientific research, and there’s lots of it, produces varied results. One, the worldwide INTERSALT study, found just a ‘modest’ association between higher levels of sodium intake and higher blood pressure.
A review of 205 studies from 66 countries, led by prominent US cardiologist and epidemiologist Professor Dariush Mozaffarian, confirmed that too little sodium (less than three grams) posed as much risk to cardiovascular health as too much (more than six grams daily). ‘We knew too much sodium was risky, but these studies raise concerns that too little sodium might be even worse,’ says US physician Dr Harriet Hall.
So should we continue adding salt to our foods, or should we pass? Should we aim for 3–5 g a day? At this point, moderation in all things appears to be the best advice.
Is any one salt better than another, and should we be going pink?
So, you’ve decided to continue using salt, in moderation. Which one should you opt for? The choice is overwhelming – sea salt, table salt, Kosher salt, flavoured salts, fleur de sel, Kalahari salt and the ever-popular pink Himalayan sea salt are just a few. How do you choose? Well, all are basically the same chemical, sodium chloride. The difference lies only in the trace amounts of other substances they contain. Table salt, for example, is fortified with iodine to help prevent iodine deficiency and goitre.
Himalayan sea salt contains ‘84 trace minerals that promote health and wellbeing’. Or does it? Now retired, Dr Hall started investigating the salt after being contacted by a correspondent who questioned its health claims.
According to Dr Hall, who published her findings in 2014, no evidence has been published in peer-reviewed journals to suggest that replacing white salt with pink leads to any improvement in health. ‘The amount of minerals in pink Himalayan salt is too minuscule to make any difference, and we already get plenty of the same trace minerals from other foods.’
Among the minerals found in Himalayan salt, she continues, are radioactive substances like radium, uranium and polonium. Although they’re also present in small amounts, until further studies have been completed, she says, ‘I’d just as soon my salt didn’t contain uranium’.
In 2017, Dr Hall revisited the topic. ‘It’s true that the Himalayan salt beds were deposited from 250 million-year-old oceans that were lifted up when the earth buckled and the Himalaya were formed,’ she stated. ‘It’s also true that they were protected for millennia by lava, ice and snow’. So why is the salt pink? Pure sodium, she states, is white; the pink colour is caused by impurities.
So, is Himalayan salt better than any other?
Can pink Himalayan salt promote health and wellbeing? Does it really support blood vessels and lungs, encourage a stable pH balance within cells, detoxify the body of heavy metals, increase libido and help sleep?
To date, no scientific literature exists to support these claims, says Dr Hall. The 84 trace minerals (and we are impressed by the number) are not necessarily better for you. According to most sources, the human body contains just 41 to 60 trace minerals and elements, some in barely detectable amounts. ‘By my count,’ explains Dr Hall, ‘only about a quarter of the minerals in Himalayan pink salt are nutrients that the human body can or might be able to use. The other three quarters are not recognised nutrients and would be better classified as contaminants. They have no known health benefits, and many of them are known to be harmful.’
And the taste? Humans are notoriously good at fooling themselves when they think they know what they are getting. For instance, place the same wine in two bottles, one with a higher price tag, and we’ll say we prefer the more expensive version. As Dr Hall states, ‘I would be very surprised if the average person could distinguish between food prepared with Himalayan salt and regular salt.’
So the short answer is no, Himalayan salt is no better than any other. It may be less healthy than its competitors. Use it if you like the colour or its coarse texture, but you still need to take it in moderation.
Oh, and don’t eat Epsom salt – it’s not a seasoning and has a significant laxative effect!
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.
- Campbell, A. Himalayan sea salt: Misunderstandings, health risks, dangers? Healthy But Smart. https://healthybutsmart.com/himalayan-pink-sea-salt/
- Hall, H. Pass the salt, but not that pink Himalayan stuff. em>Science-Based Medicine. 2014. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/pass-the-salt-but-not-that-pink-himalayan-stuff/
- Hall, H. Pink Himalayan sea salt: An update. Science-Based Medicine. 2017. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/pink-himalayan-sea-salt-an-update/
- Mente, A., et al. Association of urinary sodium and potassium excretion with blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine.2014; 371:601-611. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1311989#t=article
- Mozaffarian, D., et al. Global sodium consumption and death from cardiovascular causes.New England Journal of Medicine. 2014; 371:624-634. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1304127#t=article
- Stamler, J. The INTERSALT Study: background, methods, findings, and implications. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997.
- Photo courtesy of pompi / Pixabay.com