‘’Salt is born by the purest parents: the sun and the sea’’
Pythagoras (580 BC – 500 BC)
Salt is often demonized, accused of being responsible for high blood pressure consequently leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular events, kidney disease, and water retention to name a few.
However, salt is not only the refined white table salt most commonly used in homes today; it also includes natural sea salt, pink Himalayan rock salt, Celtic sea salt, grey salt, Fleur de Sel, black Hawaiian salt , and many more.
In ancient times salt was held in very high esteem and was even referred to as ‘white gold’. Salt has been the cause of wars, it has been used in religious offerings in ancient Egypt, as a trade commodity by the Phoenicians, to pay for slaves in ancient Greece, and to compensate war heroes in the Roman Empire.
In fact, the word salary is derived from the word ‘’salt’’ and there were actually salt coins bearing the seal of the Mongol Empire’s great Khan. In China as far back as 6,000 years ago salt production was regarded to be of such great importance to both the economy and Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia that the government imposed taxation on it to fill its coffers.
Today, salt is still a very important commodity which has many applications outside the food flavoring realm: it plays a major role in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, industrial chemicals, the pulp and paper industry, water conditioning, highway de-icing, etc.
IS SALT REALLY OUR ENEMY?
The current general consensus among health organizations and the medical community is that a high salt diet leads to hypertension. Restriction is strongly recommended particularly in the more ‘at risk’ population. However some recent studies are challenging this paradigm suggesting that other dietary factors including sugars as well as poor lifestyle choices including smoking and lack of exercise may be at least as much to blame if not more. Perhaps the huge differences between the compositions of refined table salt versus that of unrefined sea salt are the reasons behind the debate.
NOT ALL SALT IS CREATED EQUAL
Food grade salt can be categorized into two basic groups: refined salt and unrefined salt:
1. Refined Table Salt is mined from underground salt deposits and heavily processed, bleached and exposed to temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit (649 degrees Celsius) in order to purify it and give it it’s fine texture and white color. This process strips salt of all its trace minerals making it a lifeless product with a long shelf life. Iodine is then added to prevent thyroid illnesses (it is debatable whether the amount added is sufficient for this purpose) and finally additives are added to prevent clumping.
The final product is usually 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% additives including anti-caking chemicals, iodine, MSG and/or white processed sugar, and aluminum derivatives.
2. Unrefined salt is produced through evaporation of ocean water, this process yields a product rich in trace minerals, natural flavor and color. Unrefined sea salt is a living food which has not been exposed to harsh chemicals or high temperatures; it contains all the elements and minerals necessary for life and is free from artificial additives. It must be noted however that unrefined sea salt also does not contain sufficient amounts of iodide to protect against thyroid illnesses.
The many differences between refined and unrefined salt are closely related to the differences in the salt harvesting techniques as can be seen in the diagram below:
COMPARATIVE NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS OF DIFFERENT SALTS
As discussed above, refined table salt is 98% - 99% sodium and chloride versus 89% - 97% for unrefined sea salt. Other essential trace minerals naturally present in unrefined sea salt have been removed from the refined salt and finally refined table salt contains chemical additives to prevent clumping and caking.
The resulting product is a refined unatural salt product which if consumed in excess may have a negative impact on health including an increased risk of developing hypertension. On the other hand unrefined salt is a natural wholesome food easily recognized and utilized by our bodies, it supports alkalinity thanks to the buffering effect of the minerals, and it promotes good health.
The table below gives is a more detailed picture of the differences in composition between Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt and Refined Table Salt.
SALT FOR HEALTH AND BEAUTY
Salt crystals and salt solutions are inexpensive and widely available to all. They have thousands of uses in various industries and the healthcare sector as well as for everyday use outside of the kitchen. Following are only a few suggestions of the many possibilities
Facial exfoliation: mix equal amounts of sea salt and olive or sweet almond oil together and gently massage face and throat, avoiding eye area, rinse well and apply favorite face lotion. You can also add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil to the salt mixture.
Face toner: in a jar or small bottle add 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Shake until well mixed and use as skin-pH-friendly toner.
Puffy eyes: dissolve 1 teaspoon sea salt in 1 cup warm water. Dip a soft cotton cloth in the solution, lie down and apply the compress to eyes for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water.
Mouth wash: dissolve ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda in a glass of water and gargle, don't swallow the solution.
Teeth whitening: mix equal amounts of salt and baking soda in a bowl and use on toothbrush to gently brush teeth; do not use more than once per week as this mixture is abrasive and can weaken tooth enamel.
Anti-dandruff treatment: apply salt crystals directly all over scalp and massage gently with wet fingers. Wash and condition as usual ending with a cool rinse.
Epsom Salt spray for wavy hair: mix 1 teaspoon Epsom salt (high in magnesium) in 1 cup warm water in a sprayer bottle and spritz on clean damp hair. You can add a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender to the mixture.
Body Exfoliation: gently massage sea salt crystals on damp skin for a smoother glowing look. You can also mix some coconut oil with the salt for extra hydration and/or add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil.
Salt bath to detoxify and relax: mix 1 to 2 cups Epsom saltsor sea salt in warm bath and soak for 20 minutes. You can add a couple of drops of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil known for its calming properties.
Nail treatment: In a bowl of warm water add 1 teaspoon each of salt, baking soda and lemon juice. Soak nails for 10 minutes gently massaging solution in nails. Scrub with soft brush and rinse under cool water. Apply vitamin E oil to nails for nourishment and extra shine.
Gargle for sore throat and toothaches: mix ½ teaspoon salt in 1 cup of warm water, gargle several times per day, don't swallow mixture.
Itchy skin and insect bites: dissolve 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts in a cup of hot water and allow to cool, add a couple of drops of Lavendula angustifolia to the mix. Apply where needed avoiding eyes and mucous membranes. You can also mix 1 teaspoon of salt with a few drops of water and apply directly on insect bite to reduce inflammation. Also works to calm poison ivy reactions.
Warm compress treatment: heat some salt in microwave-proof container for 2-3 minutes. Pour into soft towel, wrap and secure with elastic band. Apply to the area of the body to be treated; test heat prior to application to avoid any burns.
Splinter removal: mix 1/3 cup Epsom salts in 1 cup of warm water and soak for about 10 minutes. This strong solution helps draw out splinter and generally makes removal easier.
Swelling/oedema: mix 1 tablespoon salt in 1 litre (4 cups) warm water and soak swollen body part for 20 minutes; you can also add sufficient amount of salt to warm bathtub for a complete body soak.
Alkalize Body: sea salt is rich in minerals which help maintain a proper electrolyte balance in the body and help support the body’s pH level.
Bone health: sea salt is a great source of many minerals essential for bone health including calcium, magnesium, boron, strontium and many others.
For healthy electrolyte balance: sea salt contains many of the major electrolytes including sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium. These electrolytes are essential for maintaining proper hydration in the body, regulating heartbeat, and to ensure proper muscle and nerve function.
Protection against sun stroke and dehydration: workers and athletes performing under extreme heat conditions must protect against potentially dangerous dehydration leading to electrolyte imbalance by supplementing with salt.
Digestion: sea salt promotes digestion by stimulating the production of salivary digestive enzymes, it’s a good source of chloride for hydrochloric acid production in the stomach and it helps reduce mucus production.
Saline nasal rinse: mix 3 teaspoons iodide-free salt with 1 teaspoon baking soda and store in airtight container. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the mixture in 1 cup of warm distilled or boiled water. Use syringe or neti cup to irrigate sinuses to clear out mucus and allergens and provide relief from nasal congestion
Intravenous Saline Solution: these life-saving IV solutions are administered in hospitals to patients unable to consume oral diets, pre- and post-surgery and to patients suffering from serious heart conditions or diarrhea.
It is important to understand the huge difference between refined white salt and natural unrefined sea salt and the implications these differences have on your health. Replacing refined salt with unrefined salt in your diet appears to be an easy decision considering all the health benefits this will provide.
However, moderation is still the best advice and excessive consumption of even the healthiest foods and/or drinks can have an opposite effect potentially impacting your health negatively and more so in the health-compromised population.
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