Do You Know Nutrition: Is sea salt better than table salt?

May 10, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.
Updated May 11, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

By Phylis B. Canion

Q: Excess salt was recently in the news with questions about if the government should be involved. The government became involved long ago when it was decided people were not getting enough iodide. I do not add table salt to my meals, so I wonder if I get the iodide I need. Also, is sea salt the best salt to use?

A: First, a quick bit of salt history. The word "salary" comes from the Latin word for salt, a connection that dates back to the time when Roman soldiers were paid with salt. Hence the phrase evolved. People, headed to work, said, "I'm off to the salt mine."

Salt is one of the essential elements of life. However, the human body cannot produce salt, therefore we have to take it from an external source. Most of the salt we get comes from refined table salt. The problem is, the human body does not know how to handle processed salt. While the debate continues about salt, what we know is the body needs sodium and potassium, the electrolytes used to control water levels in the blood and tissues.

An excess or deficiency of either of these ions can be life threatening. If we eat a diet largely based on natural foods, we need some sodium. Vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, provide us with the potassium that the body needs, although the balance of both sodium and potassium are both necessary.

Iodine is the elemental name of the mineral. When it is combined with any thing else, it becomes iodide. Therefore, iodide is a form of iodine that is preferentially taken up by the thyroid gland (the reason manufacturers began adding iodine to salt in the 1920s was to prevent goiters, an enlarged thyroid gland caused by an iodine deficiency). Sea salt contains iodide, actually 8.76 parts per millions and more than 70 other minerals. Because of these extra minerals, sea salt brings a more subtle, complex flavor to the foods it is used to season and is not as "salty" as refined table salt.

While sea salt and table salt are both sodium chloride, sea salt may contain less iodine, so it is important to select a sea salt that is ionized. If you use a sea salt that is not ionized, you can add more seafood to your diet since it is a natural source of iodine, as well as kelp powder. As a note, the sodium chloride used in processed foods is not iodized.

A closing fact: Higher sodium intake increases your calcium needs because as sodium intake climbs, more calcium is lost in the urine.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, e-mail her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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