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The salty truth: Four myths about salt

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Six different types of salt (Flickr photo - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ )

February is Heart Health month, making it a great time for all ages to recalibrate their health habits. Food advice has become trendy, and one of the first places we turn to when it comes to cardiac health. The trends span a wide variety of foods when it comes to eating right for your heart, but there is one item that consistently makes the top of the list: salt.

Here’s what we know. Salt is naturally occurring in many whole foods, including fruits and vegetables. It’s made up of sodium and chloride, but our dietary health is most sensitive to sodium, and over the years salt has becomes synonymous with sodium. Salt can also include other minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, and in some cases, iodine. Because salt comes in various forms and is implicated in several health concerns, it’s hard to know what the right way to consume it is. Here are the four most common myths about salt.

Pink Himalayan salt is more beneficial than table salt.

In the last few years there has been a rise in the use of pink salt over table salt, however science doesn’t have a whole lot of evidence to support its superiority. Pink Himalayan salt comes from salt fields in and around Pakistan and is still over 97 per cent sodium chloride, making it equal in sodium to its competitor. Its pink colour comes from the minerals found within it, which are thought to have added health benefits (iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium), however, given the minimal amount found in the salt, it’s very difficult and unlikely that the consumer will gain significant health benefits. Furthermore, when it comes to table salt, iodine is added for proper thyroid function and in many cases can be a consumer’s only source of iodine. Switching exclusively to pink salt, which is not processed and therefore not iodized, can drastically lower iodine intake.

 Eating a low salt diet is always better for you.

This is a tough piece of advice to attack because research is constantly changing. It’s true that cutting salt has been known to lower blood pressure in many with hypertension, and can also lower the risk of stroke, but emerging research is showing that a diet low in sodium is linked to cardiovascular risks. These new confounding studies are hinting at the possibility that perhaps it’s not reduced sodium, but an increase in other minerals, specifically potassium, that are offering a protective benefit to health. Research is constantly evolving, and while more information is always useful, the best thing one can do to promote a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy relationship with food, is to consume it in moderation.

READ: TOP FIVE HEALTH APPS TO HELP WITH YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

It’s easy to spot foods high in salt

Of course salty foods have a high salt content. Just look at the salt content in herring, canned soups, pre-packaged spices/rubs, and meats as just a few examples. However, sweet foods also contain salt. Cookies, cereals, breads, even ice cream all contain salt as a preservative, and in some cases for flavour. It’s not always easy to spot the higher sodium foods based on taste, however a glance at the ingredients and nutrition table will give you an honest representation of how much is in an item, and how it compares to what you should be eating in a day (% of daily value).

In our current times, we eat more salt than ever before.

The invention of refrigeration has rendered this false. Through the Second World War and the industrial revolution, salt was used to preserve foods due to its antibacterial nature. This made salt much more common in the diet. On top of this, food was less available and therefore long term preservation was more important than it is today. Food had to be kept for months, as it was much harder to replace, and this made it imperative to use large quantities of salt.

 

While research is constantly evolving, and diet advice is trendy, it can be hard to navigate your health via nutrition. Speak to your doctor, chiropractor, naturopath or dietician for the best advice on how to eat right for you, and always keep in mind as with any food – moderation is key.