By Dr Harold Gunatillake – FRCS, MBBS, AM(Sing), FICS, FIACS
There are many varieties of salts in the supermarkets, but can the body recognise them other than as sodium and chloride elements. Salt plays a vital role in the regulation of many metabolic processes in the body including fluid balance, maintaining extra-cellular and intracellular fluid balance, conduction of nerve impulses, for functioning of muscles and forms a part of the internal environment. It controls our taste, smell and tactile processes.
Himalayan pink salt comes from Pakistan mined from the soil, whilst Hambantota salt is obtained by crystallising sea water exposed to the hot sun. Now what is the difference between the two from a nutritional point of view?
The Himalayan salt looks attractive from the pink colour like cut gems and some claim that it’s loaded with minerals providing many health benefits.
However, when you compare the minerals there isn’t much of a difference between the two varieties.
Himalayan salt has 0.16% of calcium, while table salt has 0.04%: Himalayan salt has 0.28% of potassium, while table salt has 0.09%: Magnesium Himalayan salt has 1,060 (ppm) while table salt has 13.9: Himalayan salt has 36.9(ppm) and table salt has 10.1 iron: Himalayan salt has 368,000 (ppm) of sodium while table salt has 381,000.
Hambantota sea salt and table salt seems to have more sodium, and Himalayan salt has more calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.
Humans get these nutrients from other sourcesand not dependant on salts, and the values in both varieties are of no therapeutic significance.
Himalayan salts are touted as good for respiratory illnesses, for a good sleep, for longevity and control of blood sugar. These are advertising gimmicks more than the truth.
What is the difference between sea salt and table salt?
The main difference seems to be in the texture, taste and the table salt is a processed product whilst the sea salt is natural. Sea salt being unprocessed has more minerals which adds flavour and colour and comes in a variety of coarseness levels.
Sea salt as mentioned earlier is obtained from the sea through evaporation of ocean water as visible in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) coastal areas.
It is sold as refined or unrefined salts. The unrefined ones look dirty as being not washed, and could be coated with trace minerals, algae, and even marine bacteria that can tolerate high temperatures.Table salt like the Himalayan salt is mined from underground salt deposits. These come from older bodies of seawater that have since dried up naturally and are long gone. The deposits that are mined are washed with water to dissolve the salt and evaporated under vacuum to form crystals. Then, the salt is purified and processed and all other minerals are stripped, including contaminants and then supplemented with sodium aluminosilicate, silicon dioxide and magnesium carbonate referred to as anti-caking additives. Table salt has about 98% of sodium chloride. Then potassium iodide is added.
Both have the same nutritional values, though sea salt is touted as a healthier salt. Most table salts have added iodine, an essential nutrient that helps maintain thyroid functions.
Kosher salt is obtained from either seawater or rock-salt deposits in salt mines. It is a coarse-grained salt made from the salt crystals and the final shape could be flat or pyramidal in structure. Nutritionally, they are no different from other forms of rock salt. It gets its name because of its integral role in making meat kosher.
Conclusions: It is hoped that we unravelled the confusions of which salt is better or not and the misguided health claims. Consuming excess added salt in your food can cause problems like water retention, high blood pressure and cardiovascular risks. On the contrary, there are negative health consequences by restricting adequate intake.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. Most of this salt is not from the salt shaker but from the processed foods, soy, ketchup sauce, pre-packaged foods and restaurant foods. Sri Lankans seem to consume lot of added salt in the curries to make them more palatable and tasty.
The body needs only a small amount of sodium (less than 500 milligrams per day) to function properly. That would be less than a teaspoon. This amount of sodium is adequate because your healthy kidneys will retain a good level. On the other hand eating too much of salt the healthy kidneys will attempt to maintain a balance, by excreting the excess in the urine, provided there are no cardiovascular problems. When kidneys can’t eliminate excess sodium effectively the mineral accumulates in your blood stream. Blood volume begins to swell and strains your heart, leading to high blood pressure.
According to the American figures an average American consumes about 3700 milligrams of sodium per day. This value is constant though there is a rise in rates of high blood pressure and heart disease. In Japan having the highest expectancies in the world, consume an average of 4650 milligrams of sodium per day and have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than most other developed countries.
Plants and vegetables have low sodium content. Some fruits like apples, guavas and passion fruit have more than 50 milligrams of sodium or more per serving. Vegies like artichoke, beets, carrots, seaweeds, turnips, celery and chard contains 75 milligrams of sodium or more per serving. Canned foods like beans have high sodium content
It is known statistically that promoting salt iodisation is the most effective way to secure iodine supply to the population. So reducing the salt intake of people may swing to lowering iodine intake below recommended levels resulting in “Iodine Deficiency Disorders” (IDD)
People are reluctant to reduce their added salt intake in food because of the tastelessness of the food and that low sodium salt available in the market, has a bitter taste. However, low sodium salts are available that are suitable for household and industrial applications and can facilitate the reduction of sodium in food. Further, added spices, and herbs, including lime or lemon, can circumvent the tastelessness of the cooked meals.
Even though some authorities believe taking excess salt is not a risk for diseases mentioned earlier, the fact remains that those who suffer from such non-communicable chronic diseases may do better on a low salt diet.
Replace your salt in the salt shaker with turmeric powder for a better healthy joint –life.