Salt: The Saint or Sinner

Is it possible to enjoy salt without a pinch of guilt?

Reading time: 6 mins

I love salt and I enjoy it without experiencing any guilt. But almost everyone I come across has a fear of salt or they see it as a guilty pleasure. I use salt to bring simple food to life and as a former salt policeman, I want to explain how and why I got over my prejudices.

A quick glance at the history books show salt as a revered commodity. Homer called it a divine substance and Plato described it as especially near to the gods. Salubrious means health-giving and “Salus” was the Roman goddess of health and prosperity. The word “salary” came from the Roman soldier’s allowance for purchasing salt. And salt appears in idioms like “salt of the earth” and “worth one’s salt.”

I know many of us crave salty food and often feel guilty when adding salt to food. But let’s face it, salt makes food taste better. Salt can transform a bland dish into a delicious treat and great chefs never forget to add salt. For me salt transports eggs and avocados to another level!

Salty Biology

Salts are critical for the functioning of every single cell of our body. Our physiology is reliant on salt for many different reasons. Salt supports our structure and the transportation of nutrients in and out of cells and around the body. Salt also plays an important role in digestion and without it we would not survive.

saltbiology

If salt is so important, why is it demonised? The basic argument is that salt raises blood pressure which in turn causes heart attacks. Salt is also in everything we eat so there’s no need to add it to our food. As a result we avoid salt or we feel guilty about eating it.

I'm not convinced by the argument that salt is unhealthy. In fact, I suggest that the right type of salt is healthy. So let's get into it...

Salt is unhealthy! says who?

Most ‘experts’ say that diets high in salt increase our blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to heart disease, so consuming too much salt is ‘bad’. But this conclusion has created fear over salt and avoiding is unhealthy. 

Here’s a list of other things that raise blood pressure:

  • Exercise
  • Sex
  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Flying
  • Cold weather

This argument is a little tongue in cheek but my point is:

A healthy individual is capable of handling acute increases in blood pressure. And a healthy body is also capable of excreting excess salt. Salt consumption is an issue when we become overweight and unhealthy.

I think the point that our doctors and scientists are making is this:

Anyone at risk of a heart attack should avoiding raising their blood pressure. Thus reduce their salt intake.

But what about all those healthy people who like a bit of salt on their eggs? Should they avoid salt? In a word: no.

The Great Salt Myth

Somewhere along the line the salt is bad myth has permeated our minds. Along with the cholesterol myth, it’s now a given that salt is bad. But have we ever stopped to question this? Or have we just accepted it along with everything else we’re taught?

“In an era when dietary advice is dispensed freely by virtually everyone from public health officials to personal trainers, well-meaning relatives, and strangers on check-out lines, one recommendation has rung through three decades with the indisputable force of gospel: Eat less salt and you will lower your blood pressure and live a longer, healthier life.”
— Gary Taubes

Salt is in everything

Nutritionists say that many foods already contain salt, so there is no need to add salt to food for flavour. Here’s a list of salty offenders:

  • Table salt, baking soda & powder
  • Sauces and dressings
  • Cured meat and fish
  • Cheese
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Instant soups and noodles
  • Crisps and other savoury snacks
  • Fast food and restaurant food
  • Canned vegetables
  • Salted nuts and seeds
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A standard diet might well contain plenty of salt but this list doesn't constitute a healthy diet in most nutrition books. And if someone is conscientious enough to avoid salt I hope they also avoid these foods as well. So if we avoid salty food and we avoid salting our food, then where are we getting salt from?

Instead of demonising salt, I would suggest we demonise processed foods that contain processed salt!

Do you track how much salt you eat?

I'm yet to meet anyone who keeps track of their exact numerical salt intake. Let’s face it, we are bad at tracking numbers. Do you know how many calories you consumed yesterday? What about the number of days since your last doughnut?

Most of us are much better at binary thinking, on or off, do or do not, this or that! Abstaining is easier than applying the rule of moderation. And my version of moderation is different to the lady down the road.

Why is all of this such a problem? Well the data is clear, diets low in salt are as unhealthy as diets high in salt. And with this, I hope we are now coming to realise that salt is too important to leave out of our diets.

Not all salt is the same

There’s a big difference between the salt available on the market. Most table salt is almost 99% sodium chloride and the rest anti-caking agents. This is the same salt that big food companies use to increase a product’s shelf life. The anti-caking agents stop salt from clumping, but are toxic to our body. Some refined table salts contain aluminium, ferrocyanide and bleach. Beside the sodium chloride, there’s zero nutrition in it.

Natural mineral salt, in the form of rock salt or sea salt can contain more trace minerals than I can name! Including: potassium, iron, iodine, manganese, zinc, sulfur, phosphorus, bromine, boron, zinc, copper, silicon boron, chromium, fluoride, iodine, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. Did I say zinc?

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These trace minerals all help contribute towards our health span. The number of years we are healthy. Today we are living to greater ages but our health span is in decline. In the past we would get a lot of trace minerals from vegetables we eat. But commercial farming is depleting the nutrient density of the soil.

Trace minerals in high quality salts are in minute quantities but they all add up. They are unlikely to rejuvenate your health overnight but that is not the point. I am not selling salt, I am selling the idea that salt is healthy.

healthysalt

Trace minerals also balance the negative effects of sodium chloride. Several health experts suggest that they stop blood pressure from rising. Furthermore a diet full of minerals makes our body run like a Rolls Royce, looks good and feels good.

The research also suggests the ratio of sodium chloride to potassium is the most important factor. Table salt just contains sodium chloride! So perhaps use that stuff for de-icing the drive instead of eating it!

Which salt to buy?

Clever marketing often has us buying cheaper rock salt or sea salt that is often the same as processed table salt. But even the highest quality salts are affordable. I bought 3kg of high quality sea salt for £10, which will last years. French fleur de sel Guerande is an excellent sea salt as is Pink Himalayan rock salt. If you prefer to go with British salt then there’s Hebridean Salt or Halen Môn salt from Anglesey. This is what Heston Blumenthal and Barack Obama use!

hestonsalt

How much salt is enough?

Could it be possible that our body knows how much salt it needs. If we crave salty food do we actually need it? Is our craving for salty food like our sense of thirst or like our desire for sugar?

If you ask me the body is intelligent enough to know what we need. We just need to learn to listen and know the difference between our mental and physical cravings!

I don’t go overboard with salt, I add a little to my drinking water and I use it to cook with. Oh and I add a bit on the top of my eggs and avocados!

saltlick

Conclusion

Salt is not the enemy, salt is an important part of our diet. But the salt we consume is important, so go for the best you can afford. Trace minerals are healthy and balance the negative effects of sodium chloride.

Processed food, processed salt and toxic anti-caking agents are the bad guys. A processed diet and a sedentary lifestyle causes heart disease, not salt. If you have heart disease then take care but remember the guidelines say to limit salt not avoid it.

Early homo sapiens and modern hunter gatherers get their salt from drinking animal blood. If you eat a whole food diet and don’t drink blood then you will need some salt in your diet!

Most of us, let’s not forget life's for living and no one likes bland food. Salt makes things taste better, so opt for salt on your food but make sure it's the good stuff!

Thanks

James @

EVO•TEE


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