Sea salt is on everyone’s lips. But is there any reason to believe that it is better than plain ol’ salt? What’s the story, morning glory?
For starters, it is important to stress that all salt initially came from the sea. Whether “sea salt” or “table salt” was mined or obtained from seawater evaporation, they both originate from some salted body of water.
Sea salt is gaining in popularity due to its coarse and crunchy texture and more potent flavour than regular salt. It can also be white, black, pink, green or grey. This explains why many gourmet chefs swear by it. Anyone that’s been to a grocery store recently knows that sea salt does come at a higher cost. Is it worth it?
One thing sea salt can brag about is the fact that it isn’t refined as table salt, which means unrefined sea salt naturally contains healthy minerals such as the heart-healthy mineral magnesium, which is thought to prevent cardiovascular disease as well as potentially alleviate PMS symptoms, as well as trace amounts of calcium, potassium and other minerals. It is important to note, however, that according to the Mayo Clinic, these minerals are present but “in insignificant amounts”, meaning a balanced diet (and thus ample fruits and vegetables) would allow you to meet the needs for these mentioned minerals without the use of sea salt.
It is important to note that sea salt has less iodine than table salt. Why, you ask? No salt (neither table salt nor sea salt) contains iodine naturally. Iodine began to be added to foods in the early 1900’s when scientists found that iodine-deficient diets were leading to thyroid goitre (an enlarged mass in the neck that can cause pressure on the trachea and esophagus). After this finding, table salt (a staple) was fortified with iodine and the number of goitre incidents decreased substantially. To this day, iodine is still added to table salt but not to sea salt (make sure your table salt is labelled as iodized for this to hold true). Iodine is not only crucial for preventing iodine-deficiency goitre but also for thyroid health and for prevention of a type of mental retardation in infants called iodine deficiency disorder.
For the record, natural sources of iodine include seafood, sea vegetables, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, etc.
Table salt, on the other mano, is subsequently processed after salt mining or seawater evaporation to yield finer salt crystals. Trace minerals that may initially have been present are stripped from the salt and preservatives such as anti-caking agents are oft added in (less than 2% by weight) as salt has a natural tendency to clump together.
Where does the main debate lie? People often mistakingly think that sea salt has less sodium than regular salt when in reality, according to the American Heart Association, both table salt and sea salt are about 40% sodium by weight.
This is important to consider when aiming to eat an overall heart-healthy diet. Thinking that sea salt is a lower sodium option than regular salt can lead to overuse, with an ensuing increase in blood pressure, which can consequentially lead to heart issues and increased risk of heart disease. That said, if you have low blood pressure or are very active, you can stand to add a little more sodium to your diet.
Bottom line? With relatively similar salt contents, it all boils down to (pun most definitely intended) personal preferences (taste, color, texture), beliefs and budget, while remembering that the following saying still holds true: alas, moderation* is key.
*Moderation is 2400 mg of sodium per day at most for individuals with normal blood pressure and 1500 mg of sodium per day for individuals with high blood pressure.