Why you should be a salt snob
Yes, I am writing a post on salt...
Here's why: many of us do our best to avoid refined foods. We minimize our consumption of white sugar, seek out whole grains, and keep our fast food binges to a minimum. However, we often add salt to practically every single savory dish we make without a second thought (I mean, it's salt, what is there to think about?). Unfortunately, in the world of food manufacturing nothing is simple, not even salt.
Salt (or sodium chloride as you might remember from chemistry class), is an essential nutrient. We can't function without it. Sodium and chloride are the body's principal electrolytes, and they are essential for maintaining fluid balance. Sodium is required for nerve function and muscle contraction, while chloride is needed for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, the elimination of carbon dioxide in the lungs, and the proper functioning of our immune system (amongst other things).
Unfortunately, table salt, the salt many of us use on a daily basis, is heavily processed.
In its natural form, salt contains almost sixty trace minerals that are a healthy part of our diet (such as potassium, zinc and magnesium - the exact makeup of the minerals will vary depending on the source).
Refined table salt on the other hand, has been heavily manufactured: this industrial processes strips the product (usually sourced from underground mines) of most all of these minerals while adding in "anti-caking chemicals" to ensure the smooth flow of the finely-ground crystals as you pour them into your cooking pot. In fact, the FDA allows up to two percent of a salt package's contents to contain anti-caking agents (!). Anyone who has any experience with natural salt knows that it is completely natural for it to clump together, and so this addition is completely aesthetic.
I personally enjoy either sea salt (I like this brand) or Himalayan salt, not for the health benefits, but mostly for the taste. After a few years of cooking with them exclusively, I find the taste of table salt to be quite metallic (and I know of many people who feel the same way). And also, while I do not worry about the lack of trace minerals in table salt (the amounts are minute, and can be compensated for with a well-balanced diet), I doworry about ingesting anti-caking chemicals in almost every meal. Why should I consume a completely unnecessary manmade chemical every single day when I don't have to?
Finally, a note for those of you watching your salt intake...
I won't go into the topic of the salt and heart disease in this post (although there is much to say), but I do want to share an eye-opening statistic, since many people I know are trying to minimize their salt intake: did you know that in the United States, 75 percent of the salt we ingest is added during food processing and manufacturing, and NOT while cooking or at the table (Higdon et. al, 2012). In other words, three quarters of the salt we ingest comes from restaurants, canned food, chips and other snacks, microwave dinners, store-bought BREAD (that's a big one), and even cereal (up to 700 mg of salt in 1 cup of many cereals - can you believe it?). So, if you are concerned about your sodium levels, the best thing you can do is enjoy yummy homemade meals. There is no point in carefully measuring out each teaspoon of salt we are using in our own kitchens if we are going to be eating out for lunch everyday while at the office... food for thought.
And also, read labels - salt is quite literally everywhere (and like I mentioned, bread is a HUGE source of salt).
Higdon, J., & Drake, V. J. (2012).
Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals: Health Benefits and Intake Recommendations