What You Will Learn in This Article
- History of salt
- How salt got a bad rap
- Refined vs. unrefined
- Why we need salt
- Why you could have low sodium levels
- The salt we recommend
Salt: Is it good or bad? When it comes to eating a healthy diet, the question of salt often comes up. Is salt healthy? Will it cause high blood pressure? Does the kind of salt matter? As with many things in life, the answer is dependent on a few different things: the amount, the type, and the person consuming it.
The controversial aspect of salt is its sodium content. Common table salt is sodium chloride and sodium makes up a large part of most types of dietary salt. While sodium is essential to human life, in excess, it’s been associated with health issues like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and kidney disease. (1, 2)
In this article, I want to show you how to view salt in the context of the overall diet, the type of salt, and the uniqueness of the individual in his or her response to salt – this way you will see that not all salt is bad, and in fact, it’s vital to good health.
History of Salt
The use of salt as seasoning goes back thousands of years. It was originally used for food preservation —before we had refrigeration. Preserving vegetables by salt and fermentation, like sauerkraut, or meat or fish by brine, like salted cod or salt pork, was simply done out of necessity.
It was so valuable for food preservation, salt may have even been used as a form of payment, hence, our word, “salary.” Since salt was so often added as the main way of preserving food, humans may have actually consumed a lot more salt than we do now.
According to Dr. James Di Nicolantonio in his 2017 book, The Salt Fix, the average daily salt consumption in ancient Rome was 25 grams. That was the equivalent of about 10,000 milligrams of sodium per day. By the 1500s, Europeans likely consumed around 40 grams of salt per day, rising to 70 grams in the 1700s. (3)
Even now, people around the world tend to settle on about 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day when given unrestricted access. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, recommends keeping sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. (4)
How Salt Got a Bad Rap
Salt originally got a bad reputation through its link to hypertension (high blood pressure) in the early 1900s. High blood pressure was then associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, and a low salt diet was recommended to help prevent cardiovascular disease. (3)
However, it’s not that simple.
Sodium only raises blood pressure in those who are “salt-sensitive” –not in the general population. Research suggests that about 80 percent of those with normal blood pressure won’t experience increased blood pressure from eating salt. In those with pre-hypertension, 75 percent aren’t salt-sensitive, and in those who already have hypertension, 55 percent won’t benefit from restricting salt. (5)
If you go back and look at who is salt-sensitive, it turns out that those people are also consuming a high amount of sugar — particularly fructose, as is found in processed foods (high fructose corn syrup, for example). Sugar is known to damage kidneys, which is why diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. (6)
It’s added sugars that are likely the real culprit behind high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. (7) Even in the 1980s, the research found that up to 80 percent of those with hypertension also had insulin resistance. (8)
We’ve been blaming the wrong white crystal all along.
Even if salt isn’t a problem in and of itself, quality matters. Salt that is stripped of its other naturally occurring minerals isn’t going to be recognized by the body as a natural compound. That’s where unrefined salt comes in.
Refined vs. Unrefined Salt
Whether salt adds or detracts from good health may depend on whether you’re consuming the refined or unrefined version. The idea that “salt is salt” is not true. There are many types of salt. Here are some you may have tried or, at least have seen on the shelves of a natural or specialty foods store:
- Table salt — The white crystal sodium chloride on your dinner table or in your processed foods. This is a chemically refined version of the original full-spectrum mineral form that occurs in nature.
- Iodized salt — A chemically refined table salt with the addition of iodine to help prevent goiters. Since it’s not recognizable by nature, a stripped-down compound like this, even with the added iodine, acts more like a toxin in the body than a nutrient.
- Kosher salt — Larger crystal (coarse) salt used for cooking or canning and not as a table condiment. It usually doesn’t have iodine added.
- Himalayan salt — Salt mined from the Himalayan Mountains. Can be found in either pink or black. Known for its full spectrum of 84 different minerals. Does not contain microplastics.
- Hawaiian salts — Salt mined from Hawaii. Can be found in either black or red.
- Redmond’s Real Salt — Salt mined in from an ancient seabed in the state of Utah. Does not contain microplastics.
- Sea Salt — Salt obtained from the ocean. Includes iodine. May be high in microplastics.
- Celtic sea salt — Salt filtered from the ocean using a specific Celtic harvesting method. The original varieties are harvested in France using the traditional methods of collecting and filtering the salt. Many brands were tested and don’t contain microplastics.
Why We Need Salt
We need salt for our bodies to function properly –especially our endocrine/hormone system. Salt is important for our adrenal glands and our thyroid. It’s also vitally important for fertility, hydration, and detoxification. Here’s the important role salt and sodium play in these glands and processes:
Salt is essential for healthy adrenal functioning. The adrenal hormones cortisol and aldosterone are important for maintaining salt balance in the body. When under stress, cortisol helps release sodium from the skin stores. Salt may help us function better when under stress. (3)
You can also support your adrenals with Morning Ritual containing electrolytes that energize the adrenals and overall body.
When we talk about salt, the topic of iodine comes to mind. It’s true that the thyroid is dependent on the intake of iodine. This trace mineral is used in the production of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) requires the presence of iodine in order to release T3 and T4, which are important for many aspects of the metabolism. (9)
All that said, iodine in the diet doesn’t need to come from refined iodized salt. Natural sources of iodine include seaweed like wakame, arame, hijiki, and kelp/kombu (not Nori, the seaweed used in sushi), eggs, fish (cod, snapper, canned salmon, canned Albacore Tuna), shrimp, yogurt, and prunes.
The best natural salts that include iodine are Celtic sea salt or Redmond Real Salt.
It’s also important to note that in high doses, iodine can actually be harmful to those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism).
Learn more about iodine’s role in hormone balance here.
According to the findings of Dr. Di Nicolantonio, a surprising result of a low salt diet is that it may act as a natural contraceptive, lowering sexual desire, the likelihood of getting pregnant, and the birth weight of babies that are born. Getting enough pure salt in the diet helps in promoting a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. (3)
Salt (sodium chloride) is important for electrolyte balance in the body. The main electrolytes besides sodium are potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate. It’s interesting that again, those whose blood sugar is out of balance (such as diabetics) tend to also have electrolyte imbalances. (10)
Electrolytes, having a positive or negative charge, are also important for electrical activity in the body, which especially affects the function of the heart, brain, nerves, and muscles.
It may be surprising, but salt plays an important role in detoxification. A particular salt water flush before a colonoscopy can be just as effective as drinking that not-so-tasty lemon-lime polyethylene glycol solution. (11)
Similarly, the ancient practice of “Shankha Prakshalana,” which combines a saline drink with certain yoga movements to stimulate a bowel movement, has also been shown to work well to detox the colon. (12)
The fact that salt can ease constipation is important in helping the body get rid of “dirty” estrogens in the stool. “Dirty estrogens” are the harmful estrogen metabolites (byproducts) that can get recirculated and prolong the effects of estrogen on the body. There are also other ways to mitigate constipation for balanced hormones.
The iodine provided in trace amounts in salt also helps the body get rid of dirty estrogens.
Eliminating these dirty estrogens is important for avoiding estrogen dominance and its related conditions, such as estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, fibrocystic breasts, and endometriosis.
This has been backed up by research:
- Iodine has been shown to have anti-cancer activities in breast cell studies by working on the estrogen pathway. (13)
- Iodine supplementation has also been shown to improve pain and other symptoms in fibrocystic breasts. (14).
- Iodine from kelp (700 mg capsules kelp per day) helped improve symptoms in women with endometriosis. (15)
You can read more about Estrogen Dominance here.
Why You Could Have Low Sodium Levels
Because of our modern health situation and lifestyle choices, we may actually be depleting our sodium levels. Depending on the individual, there may be a need for a bit more salt. According to The Salt Fix, these are some factors contributing to lower sodium levels:
- Eating too much sugar, which can damage the kidneys and lead to salt wasting
- Certain chronic diseases, like hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis), and congestive heart failure
- Being on certain medications, such as diuretics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and some diabetes drugs
- Coffee (and other caffeinated beverage) consumption
- Intense exercise, leading to salt loss through sweat
- Low carb, keto, and intermittent fasting style diets, which also cause sodium wasting
- Aging reduces our levels of renin and aldosterone, which makes it harder for our kidneys to retain salt
All of these factors can cause us to lose extra sodium through our elimination pathways (urine, bowel movements, and sweating), leading to less than optimal levels. (3)
Salt We Recommend
The type and source of your salt are really important -especially in an unfortunately polluted world. A 2018 study found that 90 percent of dietary salt contains microplastics. The highest levels were found in sea salt —especially sea salt from the Pacific Ocean. (16)
We know that plastics are high in endocrine disruptors, like phthalates and PCBs, that contribute to thyroid problems and estrogen dominance. It’s really important to make sure we’re not consuming these hormone disruptors in our salt. (17)
The salt we recommend is the unprocessed, unrefined variety. There are several different types of unprocessed salt options, and these are some we recommend:
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan pink salt is mined from one of the oldest salt mines in the world, the Khewra Salt Mine. This salt mine is located in Pakistan, near the Himalayan mountains. The mine is likely to be uncontaminated by pollutants, based on its location in an ancient dried-up seabed. However, it may have trace radioactive elements in small concentrations and it did have some microplastics based on the study mentioned above.
It’s estimated that this salt contains not just sodium chloride, but a total of 84 different minerals in smaller amounts. (3) This salt has also been popular as salt lamps, bath salts, and even salt caves, used for improving skin and the respiratory system.
Himalayan Black Salt (kala namak)
There’s also black salt in the Himalayas. This salt is high in natural sulfur and may come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, or Pakistan. It’s also frequently created in the lab by combining sodium chloride with sodium sulfate, sodium bisulfate, and ferric sulfate. (3)
Celtic Sea Salt
Celtic sea salt is known for having especially high levels of magnesium alongside sodium chloride, While it provides 82 important minerals, they are generally in small amounts. The purity depends on the ocean it’s harvested from, but the Makai Pure Deep Sea Salt from the brand Selina Naturally is harvested from 2000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. (3)
Black and Red Hawaiian Sea Salts
Hawaiian Sea Salts are salts that are naturally colored from either coconut shell charcoal or volcanic red clay. These salts are rich in sodium chloride but also contain other electrolytes as well as iron —all in small amounts. (3)
Redmond Real Salt
Redmond Real Salt is an American-mined pink salt. It’s been mined in the state of Utah since 1958. The salt comes from an ancient seabed that has been protected from contamination by environmental pollution. It’s said to be sweeter than Himalayan pink salt and may also be less contaminated with radioactive elements. It also contains iodine and is fairly inexpensive. (3)
Salt can be a part of a hormone-balancing diet and lifestyle. Just be sure to get a pure form of unrefined salt. You can find these healthy salts, including Real Salt, Celtic Salt, and pink Himalayan salt on Thrive Market.
- Bigiani, Albertino. “Salt Taste, Nutrition, and Health.” Nutrients. May 2020.
- American Heart Association. “Effects of Excess Sodium Infographic.” Heart.org website. 2021.
- Di Nicolantonio, J. “The Salt Fix.” 2017.
- United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA). “Dietary Guidelines For Americans, 2020-2025.” Dietary Guidelines.gov. 2020.
- Overlack, A et al. “Divergent hemodynamic and hormonal responses to varying salt intake in normotensive subjects.” Hypertension. 1993.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). “Diabetic Kidney Disease.” NIDDK Health Information page at niddk.nih.gov. February 2017.
- DiNicolantonio, James J, and Sean C Lucan. “The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease.” Open heart. November 2014.
- Christlieb, A R et al. “Is insulin the link between hypertension and obesity?.” Hypertension. 1985.
- National Institutes of Health. “Iodine: Fact Sheet For Health Professionals.” Office of Dietary Supplements. March 2021.
- Liamis, George et al. “Diabetes mellitus and electrolyte disorders.” World journal of clinical cases. 2014.
- Balaban, David H. “Editorial: A light breakfast, a jug of salt water, and bowel.” The American journal of gastroenterology. 2009.
- Singh, S N et al. “”Shankha prakshalana” (gastrointestinal lavage) in health and disease.” Ancient science of life. 1988.
- Stoddard, Frederick R 2nd et al. “Iodine alters gene expression in the MCF7 breast cancer cell line: evidence for an anti-estrogen effect of iodine.” International journal of medical sciences. 2008.
- Ghent, W R et al. “Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast.” Canadian journal of surgery. Journal canadien de chirurgie. 1993.
- Yang, S. “New study finds kelp can reduce level of hormone related to breast cancer risk.” UC Berkeley News. February 2005.
- Kim, Ji-Su et al. “Global Pattern of Microplastics (MPs) in Commercial Food-Grade Salts: Sea Salt as an Indicator of Seawater MP Pollution.” Environmental science & technology. 2018
- Yang, Oneyeol et al. “Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals: Review of Toxicological Mechanisms Using Molecular Pathway Analysis.” Journal of cancer prevention. 2015.