Nicholas Rush, RDN, CDNMarch 30, 2023
You’d think buying salt from the grocery store would be a pretty simple task, but if you’ve ever gone down the spice aisle, you know that there are a ton of options to pick from now. Among them is sea salt, which has risen in popularity in recent years and is often promoted as healthier and less processed than regular table salt. While it’s true that sea salt is less processed, is it truly better for your health? The short answer is no, but let’s take a closer look.
What is sea salt?
You can probably guess that sea salt is exactly what it sounds like – it’s made from evaporated seawater, which leaves behind salt crystals. Because it’s less processed, it retains a small amount of trace minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. This gives it a slightly different taste, color, and coarseness compared to regular salt.
What is regular salt?
Regular salt (or “table salt”) is typically derived from underground salt mines. Compared to sea salt, table salt is more processed to remove impurities and is mostly stripped of those minerals mentioned above. However, you’ll often see table salt containers have “iodized” on the label, meaning that iodine has been added to it, a practice that began in the 1920s to prevent iodine deficiency. Iodine is an essential nutrient that our body is unable to make and is important for the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones are necessary for our thyroid to function properly, for regulating our metabolism, as well as many other important functions like proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
Which is better?
One argument in favor of sea salt is that it’s less processed and more “natural” than table salt, which has been equated to being healthier. However, this argument is not entirely accurate. Both sea salt and table salt undergo some type of processing, and both are chemically identical in terms of their sodium content. In fact, when it comes to nutritional value, there is very little difference between sea salt and regular salt. Both are mostly made up of sodium chloride, which means they have virtually the same effect on the body in terms of blood pressure and heart health.
As far as mineral content, most Americans are getting enough iodine in their diets, so getting this nutrient from iodized table salt is not much of a concern nowadays, and foods rich in iodine, like seafood, provide additional nutrients and health benefits. The same goes for other minerals found in sea salt, where their content is pretty minuscule to have a significant impact compared to foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy, which also provide many other nutrients necessary for our health.
There is no clear evidence that sea salt is better for your health than regular salt. Consuming too much salt, regardless of the type, can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Most Americans are consuming much more sodium than what the American Heart Association recommends for adults, which is no more than 2,300 milligrams, or roughly one teaspoon of salt per day.6
While both types of salt contain minerals beneficial to our health, you would have to consume large amounts to meet your daily requirements, which would also increase your sodium intake. If you want to use sea salt for its unique taste and texture, go ahead and enjoy it, but don’t assume that it’s a healthier option. The most important thing is to limit your overall salt intake, regardless of the type you choose. Adding flavor to dishes using herbs and spices, cooking more of your meals at home, and eating fewer packaged foods are just a few ways to limit sodium intake. While it can be easy to overdo it on the salt, working with a dietitian can help you make adjustments to your diet that moderate your sodium intake and improve your overall health.
Author: Caroline Mathis, Dietetic Intern
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