When we crave certain foods, along with fats, textures, and familiarity, we often crave salt. As far back as 6050BC, salt has been an important and integral part of the world’s history and was once used as a method of trade and currency because it was so highly valued. Salt has been apart of Egyptian religious offerings, trade between the Phoenicians and their Mediterranean empire, and the word “salary” was derived from the word “salt”. The word “salad” also originated from “salt”, and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables. Undeniably, the history of salt is both broad and unique and part of many cultures around the world.
Today when we think of salt, we think of the shaker on the dinner table, sodium chloride, a food preservative, and then the health warnings that go along with it. Himalayan salt is often touted as being healthier than regular salt because it contains 84 trace amounts of minerals and is unrefined, unprocessed raw salt mined by hand from salt caves that formed 250 million years ago as ocean salt settled into geologic pockets. But do the trace amounts really add up?
Regardless of the type of salt—sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, flavoured salt, fleur de sel, Hiwa Kai, Himalayan salt, Black Hawaiian sea salt, Kala Namak, “organic salt”—they are all basically the same chemical, sodium chloride, and only the trace amounts of other substances vary.
We know that regardless of type, high intakes of salt can increase your blood pressure and your risk of cardiovascular disease including heart, stroke, and blood vessel disease. The Heart Foundation advises that an average adult should consume less than 2300 mg of sodium, or 6 grams of salt, a day. A good rule of thumb when looking at nutritional labels is to remember that foods with less than 120 mg per 100 grams are considered low in salt, while foods with more than 500 mg per 100 grams are considered high in salt. Aim for foods with less than 400 mg per 100 grams.
Where is All the Salt Coming From?
According to the CDC, a massive 9 out of 10 US adults get too much sodium in their diets. Most sodium in the American diet comes from processed grains such as pizza and cookies, and animal meats, including chicken meat and processed meats. Americans consume an average of 3,466 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day—more than twice the current recommended limit.
Hypertension, stroke, and heart disease have all been linked to a too-salty diet because salt retains water in the blood and can make it more difficult for the heart to pump it.
Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that Americans consume about 300 mg more sodium when they eat at a fast-food restaurant and about 412 mg more when they dine at a full-service restaurant compared to when they eat at home.
New research shows Australians are also eating almost twice the daily recommended amount of salt, despite the fact that most think they are being sensible in their salt intake.
Broadly we eat between 8 and 10 grams of salt every day and that’s about twice the WHO level which is recommended—and that’s right the way across the population here in Victoria and indeed Australia.
Dr Bruce Bolam, VicHealth Programs Executive Manager
Unfortunately, a lot of salt that we consume is hidden so without checking nutritional labels and paying attention, we often aren’t aware that we’re eating it. Currently, Australians are eating the maximum daily amount of salt just from the everyday foods we buy. This doesn’t include salt added at the table—so many people will be eating much more.
There’s salt in almost every food we eat, but the amount varies a lot. 75% our salt intake comes from the processed foods we eat every day, like bread, breakfast cereals, spreads, sauces, and non-vegans who eat processed meats and cheese. Convenient, processed foods are often major culprits as well where salt is often used as a flavour enhancer and preservative.
If you have ever tracked your calorie and macro intakes using an online tool such as Cronometer, you can begin to easily see just how much salt “sneaks” into your daily food consumption. It’s shocking at best.
Is Himalayan Salt All it’s Cracked Up to Be?
This website lists the spectral analysis of Himalayan salt as it is typically found, including a number of radioactive substances like radium, uranium, and polonium, and substances that act as poisons, like thallium. There is no confirmation on whether this analysis is accurate or where the data is obtained, but the amount of trace minerals in Himalayan salt is too minuscule to make any difference, and we already get plenty of the same trace minerals from other foods.
A NutritionData analysis of 6 grams shows zero amounts of fat, cholesterol, carbs, vitamins, and any minerals other than sodium. This shows that the trace amounts of minerals in Himalayan salt are too small to even register on a standard nutritional analysis.
This website, who also profits from selling Himalayan salt, makes claim to a 2007 study by Fenestra Research Labs showing the benefits of Himalayan salt being an effective all-natural mineral supplement. However, there’s no information on how much you have to consume for it to be “effective” and given we know the trace minerals are minuscule at best, consuming enough would likely put you into the red for sodium consumption per day. Upon Googling for this study, no results come up. The website for Fenestra Research Labs even states a warning: “Not all studies that claim to have been completed by us are real. Please contract us to verify that the study you are looking at was really completed by FRL”.
An email response on 24th May 2016 from FRL follows:
There are also no studies on NCBI or Pubmed. Doesn’t bode well when there’s no accessible peer-reviewed evidence on a current product.
Himalayan salt may contain 84 trace minerals, and if people believe these trace minerals are at a level to serve some health benefit, why are they then not worried about the levels of radioactive and poison substances having an effect as well?
The claim of 84 trace minerals may be true, but to claim Himalayan salt promotes “health” and “wellness” is false until it’s proven otherwise by actual clinical, peer-reviewed studies.
The Himalayan Salt 84 List
In alphabetical order, they are: actinium, aluminum, antimony, arsenic, astatine, barium, beryllium, bismuth, boron, bromine, cadmium, calcium, carbon, cerium, cesium, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorine, francium, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, gold, hafnium, holmium, hydrogen, indium, iodine, iridium, iron, lanthanum, lead, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, neodymium, neptunium, nickel, niobium, nitrogen, osmium, oxygen, palladium, phosphorus, platinum, plutonium, polonium, potassium, praseodymium, protactinium, radium, rhenium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, selenium, silicon, silver, sodium, strontium, sulfur, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thallium, thorium, thulium, tin, titanium, uranium, vanadium, wolfram, yttrium, ytterbium, zinc, and zirconium.
Sources: Salt History, CDC, EurekAlert, TIME, Nutrition Australia, ABC, Science Based Medicine