Monday, 31 March 2014

Salt by Any Other Name

Hey everyone! Emma here, apologizing for the delay in blog posts! Must be that end-of-the-semester time again.

I don't know about you guys, but I know that for myself the end of the semester always heralds a time of perpetual snacking. It seems there's simply no time for full meals, and I find myself reaching for whatever is convenient and close. I do try to be healthy about it (think lots of veggies, hummus, peanut butter, and fruit) but once 10pm hits all bets are off.

After 10pm, all I want is a lot of something crunchy. I want hundreds of little bite sized bits of crunchy. Baby carrots don't cut it, crackers are alright, but I know what my heart (okay, mostly my stomach...) really wants.

Yep. I cannot resist a lovely, lovely bowl of popcorn. I have an excellent air popper so I don't have to subject my body to all the questionable ingredients in those microwave bags.

Again, I try to keep it marginally healthy by going easy on the butter. I also add different spices, because I'm a spicy sort of person. However, one does not simply eat popcorn without salt.

Which brings me to the actual point of this blog post. There are many types of salt out theresea salt, kosher salt, and table salt are just a few. Many people believe that kosher or sea salt is healthier than table salt. Alas. Salt by any other name is still just thatsalt.

There a couple main differences between sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt.

Sea Salt

 Sea salt is derived from evaporated seawater. It is minimally processed, so it has large grains and a great crunchy texture. I personally love a bit of sea salt on large soft pretzels and certain cookies.

It's delicious, but not inherently healthier than any other salt. Because sea salt is derived straight from seawater, it may contain more magnesium, potassium, calcium, and other minerals than table salt. But these minerals are present in such trace amounts that they have little impact on total dietary intake (AHA, 2014). Plus, these minerals are easily obtained from a variety of foods, like vegetables and nuts.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt is made up of large, flat, flaky salt grains. It is called "kosher" because of its use in the processing of kosher (adhering to Jewish dietary law) meats. Because of its surface area, kosher salt sprinkles easily and dissolves quickly.
As with sea salt, kosher salt is less processed than table salt. Again, this doesn't automatically mean it is healthier! 

Table Salt

Last but not least, the ubiquitous table salt. This sucker is so common that most of us can't imagine our dinner tables without it. This is usually the culprit we point to when faced with rising levels of hypertension and heart disease. But is table salt really so bad?

Table salt, like sea and kosher salt, is composed mainly of sodium and chloride. It also contains potassium iodine, which has been added to table salt since the 1920s as a public health initiative (The Salt Institute, 2013).

Why iodine? The thyroid gland requires iodine for normal functioning. Too little iodine can result in goiter, which is the swelling of the thyroid gland. Google image "goiter" if you likebut it's not a pleasant thing to look at. Aside from goiter, iodine deficiency in pregnant women can impede neural development in unborn babies. Not good.

The naturally occurring minerals in sea and kosher salt are not present in table salt, as they are lost during processing. Table salt also contains anti-caking agents to prevent clumping and sticking. I know the presence of additives worries many consumers.

For a list of anti-caking agents permitted for use in Canada, as well as amounts permitted in manufacturing: 

Bottom line: Eat less salt!
When it comes to fighting hypertension, simply leaving the salt shaker in the cupboard isn't enough. According to the American Health Association, 75% of sodium in the typical North American diet comes from processed foods. We expect certain processed foods to be high in sodiumlike pickles, chips, and french fries. But what about breakfast cereal, bread, pasta sauce, and cheese? Go to your fridge and check out the labels on these productssurprisingly, these foods are often very high in sodium!

The safe upper limit for sodium in all its forms (kosher, sea, table, processed) is 2,300 mg/day (Health Canada, 2012). Most North Americans get closer to 3,400 mg/day! When it comes right down to it, table, kosher, and sea salt are all salt. They are all sodium chloride, they all contain about 40% sodium (AHA, 2014), and too much sodium ain't good for ya. Those "sea salt" chips aren't necessarily any healthier for you than any other brand.

So if you just need a salty fix once in a while, but still want to making healthy choices remember these three things:

  1. Table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt all contain the same amount of sodium.
  2. Table salt contains slightly less naturally occurring minerals, though it also contains iodine.
  3. Seasoning your own home-made snacks (like popcorn, baked fries, or cookies) will contribute less sodium to your diet than any highly processed snack food.

And that's all I have to say about that.
Best of luck to all of you who, like myself, are tackling exams and final projects! Snack smart, and thanks for reading.


American Heart Association (2014). Sea Salt vs. Table Salt. 

American Heart Association (2014). Processed Foods: where is all that salt coming from?

Health Canada (2012). Sodium in Canada.

The Salt Institute (2013). Iodized Salt.

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