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Making Sense of Salt

By Megan Tempest in Food on Nov 30, 2009 4:40PM

All salt is not created equal. When speaking of salt’s nutritional value, we are generally referring to its trace mineral content. Trace minerals are those of which our body requires a tiny amount (less than 100mg a day) to function optimally. They include copper, zinc, and manganese, to name a few.

Common table salt, the Wonder Bread of salts, results from rigorous heating, processing, and chemical bleaching of mined underground salt deposits. The end product is a salt stripped of its original mineral content. Table salt may also contain some off-putting, aluminum derived compounds intended to prevent caking. Since the 1920’s, in an attempt to prevent iodine-deficiency, iodine has been added back in to produce "iodized salt."

Kosher salt earned the name from its role in extracting blood from meats to render them suitable by Jewish dietary laws. Its coarse granules lend to more efficient absorption of blood. Kosher salt is similar to table salt, however less refined and not fortified with iodine. Fans of kosher salt attest to its pleasant taste and texture. Kosher salt is often considered “healthier” than regular table salt, primarily due to its larger crystal size, which translates to a lower sodium content per teaspoon.

Sea salt is widely regarded as the most natural and nutritious salt. Derived from evaporated sea water, sea salt is exposed to minimal processing thus retains more of its original trace minerals (which vary depending on the waters from which it originates). “Celtic” sea salts have generated a lot of buzz amongst nutrition gurus. These large-grained salts originate from coastal regions of France, where the locals have been harvesting salt for centuries. Most Celtic sea salts have a light gray hue due to the clay beds from which they are harvested. Celtic sea salt is naturally sun-dried, unbleached, and relatively mineral-rich. Within this category is the more expensive “Fleur de Sel” (flower of the sea). This is a white, delicate and flaky salt that forms on the surface of salt water ponds in the hot summer months. Fleur de Sel is naturally white because it never nestled in the clay beds where most sea salts concentrate.

Word to the wise, all salt is equal in one respect - each contains about 40% sodium. One teaspoon of table salt contains nearly 2300mg of sodium, which exceeds the daily recommended intake for most adults. There is plenty of solid research linking sodium to high blood pressure and heart disease. So whichever salt you choose, consume it in moderation.

*Get answers to all your burning questions about iodine deficiency here