I don’t have the greatest repertoire when it comes to jokes, but I do have a couple of oldies but goodies. You might call them ‘dad jokes’, and now that I’m a father I can fully embrace them. So before I delve into the dangers of white salt, I will share one with you:
Did you hear what happened to the peanuts?
They got ‘a-salted’.
(Cue the groans.)
Unfortunately when we consume refined, white salt we are also getting assaulted. Table salt is another one of those processed foods that affect many health conditions. It is basically a lab-produced cocktail of chemicals that ends up wreaking havoc on your body chemistry.
What is Table Salt?
Table salt is manufactured salt that is stripped of its natural minerals. Salt in and of itself is not a dangerous food – we need salt in the body. However, during salt processing the balance of sodium in comparison to other valuable minerals is lost. And that’s not all – companies add anti-caking agents to salt to keep it from clumping together. Some of these common anti-caking agents contain aluminum, which is potentially carcinogenic and can accumulate in the brain, leading to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Table salt is commonly fortified with iodine. This practice began in the 1920s in the United States, when people from the Great Lakes to the Midwest were suffering from goiters (the area was nicknamed ‘the goiter belt’). Goiters are an enlargement of the thyroid gland and they happen when we don’t get enough iodine. (Interestingly, this was occurring because of nutrient-depleted soil, and the quality of our soil is incredibly important to our health. We are only as healthy as our soil!).
Salt was iodized as an inexpensive and easy way to prevent and treat goiters, and the practice quickly spread to other places in the US and Canada where goiters were common, and iodized salt is still used to this day.
However, iodized salt may leave us at risk for iodine overload and nowadays, we are able to access enough iodine from other food sources. Fortification, in my view, is no longer necessary, especially if the forms we are supplementing with aren’t the best sources of minerals we can absorb and use.
Health Risks of Table Salt
The main issue with table salt is the high content of the mineral sodium. Sodium helps regulate fluid balance in the body. Where sodium goes, water goes. If there’s too much salt in the blood, there’s too much fluid. And when there’s too much fluid in a small space we have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. High sodium intake can also double our risk of heart failure, increase our risk for obesity and even raise the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
We have also discovered that salt can promote autoimmune disease by increasing pro-inflammatory macrophages, increase Th17 cell potency and Il-17 function, as well as impairing Treg cell function.
Signs You’re Eating Too Much Salt
Hypertension is one of the most common signs of sodium imbalance, but other signs include:
- Water retention
- Swelling of the ankles/wrists
- Chronic kidney stones
If you are experiencing these, it wouldn’t hurt to check your sodium intake.
Where Is All This Salt Coming From?
Most people think that the bulk of sodium intake is from using table salt when cooking at home. But beware, only 11% of sodium comes from the salt that we use when seasoning food. Unfortunately, in the average North American diet, about 70% of our salt comes from processed foods.
This may or may not surprise you. Processed foods are pervasive in our culture, and salt is used in packaged foods in a couple of ways. One, salt is a great preservative. And two, salt is used as a lure by food manufacturers to enhance our perception of flavour and to ensnare us so we will keep buying their products. Evidence indicates that salt can be addictive, tapping into the brain and increasing our cravings for more salt.
If you have children, research shows that adding more salt to their food can influence their intake. In one study of elementary children fed cafeteria meals of green beans and pasta, children preferred the saltier options over the non-salted ones. They also ranked the salty pasta higher than the salted green beans. While adding salt to vegetables may encourage our children to eat them, it may also increase their preference for more processed junk foods and ‘comfort’ foods.
Where You’ll Find White Salt in Processed Foods
You’ll find salt in many store-bought foods, including:
- Bread and pastries
- Processed meats and cured meats (deli meat, salami, bacon, sausages, etc.)
- Canned items (soups, beans, tomato sauce, fish, etc.)
- Condiments (salad dressings, gravy, ketchup, mustard, etc.)
- Stocks and bouillon cubes
- Soy sauce
- Salted nuts and seeds
- Pickled Foods
- Packaged noodles
- Pre-prepared and frozen meals
Many of us are consuming far too much sodium – in North America, it’s typically double of what we actually need. The recommended daily amount is about 1500 mg per day.
What’s the Best Type of Salt to Use?
You don’t have to eliminate salt entirely. There is almost always an alternative to refined, processed foods, and in this case it is unrefined sea salt. If you’ve been to the sea or live by it, you’ve probably noticed that the water is salty. Sea salt is evaporated and dried from sea water, so there is far less processing involved. It will also retain minerals.
Look for unrefined sea salts like celtic salt (it will be grayish in colour) or Himalayan salt, which is pink and mainly comes from salt rocks mined in Pakistan.
You can find sea salts in health food stores and grocery stores. If you have any concerns about where your salt comes from, call the company and ask.
Other Ways to Reduce and Manage Salt Consumption
Use herbs and spices. There is a wide array of seasonings for your food aside from salt. Experiment with different herbs and spices to add flavour to your food.
Read labels. Check labels to see the sodium content of packaged and processed foods – you may be surprised! Even foods that don’t seem very salty, like baked goods, could be loaded with salt.
Cook from scratch. The best way to control what goes into your food is by cooking it yourself. Get into the kitchen and be an explorer – try new and simple recipes.
Drink plenty of water. Salt cravings can sneak up when we are dehydrated. Ensure you drink plenty of water – I typically recommend at least 1 ounce of water per kilogram of body weight.
Consume naturally salty foods. Don’t forget that whole foods contain sodium, too. Some foods with natural sodium include:
- Beans and legumes (dried beans, or canned without added salt)
- Bone broth (homemade, seasoned with sea salt)
Table salt and the salt in processed foods are detrimental to our health. Removing or reducing these two salt sources from our diet is an amazing first step to improving our sodium balance and our overall wellbeing. Once you begin to enjoy the natural saltiness of sea salt, you won’t be able to go back to the refined, white versions.
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