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A Salt Worth Its Salt

Posted Sep 02 2009 7:44pm

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Salt has earned a bad reputation in recent years, so it may comes as a surprise to hear this ancient seasoning is actually crucial for good health. Humans are made up of about 72% water and 28% minerals salts. As such, there are two oceans of water in the body; one ocean is held inside the cells of our bodies, and the other ocean is the sea of fluid existing outside of our cells. Good health depends on a most delicate balance between the volume of these oceans, and this balance is achieved by salt—unrefined salt. 

Natural, unrefined salt has many other essential functions than just regulating the water content of the body. According to Dr. F. Batmanghelidj in his book, Water: For Health, for Healing, for Life:

  • Salt is most effective in stabilizing irregular heartbeats and, contrary to the misconception that it causes high blood pressure, it is actually essential for the regulation of blood pressure—in conjunction with water. Naturally, the proportions are critical.
  • Salt is vital to the extraction of excess acidity from the cells in the body, particularly the brain cells.
  • Salt is vital for balancing the sugar levels in the blood; a needed element in diabetics.
  • Salt is vital for the generation of hydroelectric energy in cells in the body. It is used for local power generation at the sites of energy need by the cells..
  • Salt is vital for absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract.
  • Salt is vital for the clearance of the lungs of mucus plugs and sticky phlegm, particularly in asthma and cystic fibrosis.
  • Salt is vital for clearing up congestion of the sinuses.
  • Salt is a strong natural antihistamine.
  • Salt is essential for the prevention of muscle cramps.
  • Salt is vital to prevent excess saliva production to the point that it flows out of the mouth during sleep. Needing to constantly mop up excess saliva indicates salt shortage.
  • Salt is absolutely vital to making the structure of bones firm. Osteoporosis, in a major way, is a result of salt and water shortage in the body.
  • Salt is vital for sleep regulation. It is a natural hypnotic.
  • Salt on the tongue will stop persistent dry coughs.
  • Salt is vital for the prevention of gout and gouty arthritis.
  • Salt is vital for maintaining sexuality and libido.
  • Salt is vital for preventing varicose veins and spider veins on the legs and thighs.
  • Salt is vital to the communication and information processing of nerve cells the entire time that the brain cells work—from the moment of conception to death.

A Grain of Salt
Most modern health problems that have been linked to sodium are actually caused by the type of salt we eat. The typical modern table salt can be compared to refined sugar and refined flour—it used to be a healthful, whole food, but our industrial food system has stripped and processed it into a disaster waiting to happen. Like most factory-made, food-like products, what began as an essential nutrient has been disfigured into a detriment to our health.

There are enormous differences between the standard, refined table and cooking salt most people are accustomed to using and healthy natural salt. These differences can have a major impact on your staying healthy, or increasing your risk of diseases you want to avoid.

Major table salt producing companies mine unpalatable rock salt from the earth, then dry it in huge fossil-fuel guzzling kilns with temperatures reaching 1200 degrees F. This changes the salt’s chemical structure into pure sodium chloride, an unnatural chemical form of salt that your body recognizes as a foreign substance it wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible. In order to eliminate the invader, water molecules surround the sodium chloride to neutralize it by breaking it into sodium and chloride ions. For this process, water is extracted from our cells, which then can dehydrate and die. This neutralization process not only kills cells, but also takes a tremendous amount of energy, and causes a constant overburden on our excretory organs.

But if that weren’t enough, after this extremely energy-intensive drying process, toxic additives like fluoride, anti-caking agents, excessive amounts of potassium iodide and other poisons are mixed into the salt. Many versions of commercial salt also contain toxic aluminum derivatives, which have been implicated in a number of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. These additives can cause discoloration in salt, so bleaching agents are then used to restore the desirable white color. The end product is a highly industrial, toxic pseudo-food Americans have come to think of as “salt” that causes the potential for a myriad of health problems.

Salt of the Earth
In contrast to table salt, unrefined sea salt, naturally harvested and dried in the sun, contains a wealth of trace minerals and electrolytes that are easily assimilated by your body. Unlike refined salt which contains only 2 or 3 elements, sea salt contains about 80 mineral elements (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and more) that are essential in small amounts for a variety of functions in the body. These mineral salts and electrolytes are key players in enzyme production as well as immune system, adrenal and thyroid function.

What science is now telling us is that consuming a balance of mineral salts is necessary for health, and is more beneficial than eliminating sodium chloride. An eight-year study of a New York City hypertensive population stratified for sodium intake levels found those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as those on normal-sodium diets—the exact opposite of what the “salt hypothesis” would have predicted. (1995). Dr. Jeffrey R. Cutler documented no health outcomes benefits of lower-sodium diets.

After years of promoting what may be unhealthy, low levels of salt, science may soon prove that it is a diet with a balance of mineral salts that is the answer. Eating a diet with a balance of sodium, magnesium and potassium may actually help to lower blood pressure and promote good health.

Sodium, potassium and magnesium help to regulate fluid balance in the body and allow nutrients and oxygen to travel to their necessary destinations. Unlike refined salt which takes water from your cells, natural salt allows the body to achieve a balance of water both inside and outside cells. With adequate natural salt and pure water, conditions like gout, muscle cramps, water retention and edema disappear. Natural salt has also been shown to be very helpful in treating adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Unrefined, natural salt can also help with weight loss. According to Dr. Esteban Genoa, a Miami physician, “a lot of people are not overweight because of excess body fat; they are overweight because of excessive bodily fluids. This type of person may go on a starvation diet and gain weight.

These people will benefit from adding the right salt to their foods because their kidneys are not working correctly, the water exchange between the body’s organs, as well as between the extra cellular fluid and the intracellular fluid, does not flow properly. These people are not moving fluid through the system, they are water intoxicated, and they are really going to benefit from the proper salt. In addition, a person with this sort of weight problem should limit carbohydrates.”

Another benefit of natural salt is that it stimulates the production of enzymes and digestive juices which are necessary for the body to utilize nutrients from the foods we eat. This can be especially beneficial for people whose diet consists mainly of cooked foods, since cooking foods destroys enzyme content. Natural sea salt can help the body digest these foods properly.

Finally, a number of medical studies have begun to prove what people have known anecdotally for millennia: soaking in sea salt baths rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium may be beneficial in the treatment of various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

Given the latest health findings that a balance of minerals is the healthiest choice, it makes good sense to switch to natural sea salts which contain not only sodium, but also magnesium, potassium and other essential minerals. Not only do these salts promote good health, they also taste better.

Avoiding Refined Table Salt
Refined sodium chloride is added to almost every preserved, packaged and processed product that you eat. Therefore, when you add more table salt to your already-salted, packaged food, your body receives more sodium chloride than it can dispose of. This is important since over 90% of the money that people spend on food is for processed food.

To avoid refined table salt, and the havoc it can cause to your body, avoid processed foods as much as possible, and be careful to check the labels of the other foods you buy. Even fresh meats are often packaged in broths made with refined salt.

To avoid the refined salt shaker at restaurants, I like to carry packets of sea salt in my purse.

Where to Find Natural Salt
The difference between iodized table salt and unrefined natural salt is as great as the difference between white sugar and freshly cut sugar cane. Natural sea salt is not white and dry; it is gray with minerals and feels damp. Some artisanal natural salts are pink, yellowish or even black. Each type of natural salt has its own unique flavor to experiment with.

You can find natural sea salts at Whole Foods, natural food stores, as well as online. My favorite sea salt is from the Celtic Sea Salt Company, which sells unrefined salt that is hand raked from the Brittany sea. Himalayan pink sea salt and Real Salt from prehistoric sea beds in Utah are also nice choices.

By choosing a salt that is “worth its salt,” you can enjoy the health and taste benefits a balance of minerals from the sea can bring to your favorite dishes.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop!

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