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Friday, February 12, 2016
In the midst of National Heart Month, one of the focuses is eating a heart healthy diet including reducing the amount of sodium consumed. Lowering sodium in the diet can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing or lowering blood pressure. Too much sodium can hold excess fluids in the body, raising blood pressure, and making the heart work harder. Aim for a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmhg. Americans consume an estimated 3,440 milligrams of sodium every day, when the recommendation by the 2015 dietary guidelines is 2,300 milligrams or a teaspoon. One question I've been asked a few times over the past few weeks is, "Is sea salt or kosher salt a healthier choice compared to table salt?"
First, sodium and salt do not mean the same. Salt is composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium is a chemical element found in salt. Most of the salt in the diet comes from processed food rather than the shaker on the table. According to consumer research, unsurprisingly, taste ranks number one for food selection. Salt is an acquired taste and the saltiness Americans crave comes from the chloride not the sodium. High amounts of sodium hide in salad dressings, pastas, breads, soups, canned foods and cereals. Slowly cutting back on salty foods, help taste buds adjust and the cravings for saltier foods also declines. So, is one type of salt better than another? Read below about three common types of salt:
Table salt: Table salt is fine and granulated, and found in a salt shaker or used in cooking. Table salt is typically iodized. The body needs a small amount of iodine in the diet to prevent goiter (a thyroid gland condition), cretinism, and other neurological disorders. Table or iodized salt is used for baking, cooking and general use. 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Kosher salt: Kosher salt is courser and crunchy compared to table salt, but still contains sodium and chloride. Kosher salt is often use in margaritas, meat, and dishes for added texture. Kosher salt does not contain iodine, and commonly used in canning and pickling. Iodide can discolor food in canning which isn't harmful, but anesthetically displeasing. When comparing the sodium of table salt to kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt would have less sodium than table salt because table salt is denser and more would fit in the teaspoon. Kosher salt ranges from 2,000-2,360 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon, similar to table salt.
Sea Salt: Sea salt can either be fine, flaky, or large crystals and has a bolder flavor compared to table salt. Unlike table salt and kosher salt, which comes from underground deposits, sea salt comes from evaporated sea water. Sea salt can have traces of other minerals giving it different flavors, but is still about 40% sodium by weight. The sodium content between sea salt and table salt is similar and the additional traces of other minerals offer no scientifically based health advantages. Sea salt can often be more expensive than table salt due to processing. Sea salt provides different flavor and textures to food, and may be used in smaller amounts due to its larger volume, but contains a similar amount of sodium as table salt. When canning, sea salt may also discolor food.
Additional salts include pickling salt: used for making brines for sauerkraut and pickles, lite salt: containing half the sodium chloride and half potassium chloride, but not sodium free, and rock salt: large chunks of salt typically used for in making ice cream, but not common in recipes outside of ice cream.
Overall, choosing which salt to use is based on taste and texture preference. To put it simply, salt whether it be sea salt, kosher, or table salt all contain a similar amount of sodium. When looking to cut down on sodium, take small steps such as: removing the shaker from the table, switching onion and garlic salts to powders, using herbs and spices instead of salt, talk to a physician about salt substitute options, rinse canned foods before cooking to remove excess salt or buy low sodium or no salt added options, and read nutrition labels.
American Dietetic Association Complete Food & Nutrition Guide, 4thedition. 2012
Ohio State University Extension, "From land or sea, salt is salt." 2014
Penn State Extension, "Salt is Salt." 2013
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Sodium in Your Diet: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake." 2015.
American Heart Association, "Sea Salt vs. Table Salt." 2016.