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Salt or sea salt — is there a difference?

May 29, 2013
By Cheryl Rude , Marshall Independent

Is there a difference between regular, iodized salt and sea salt? I get asked this question a lot, and I think that most people do think that sea salt is a better option for them than plain, iodized salt.

Salt is comprised of two basic elements - sodium and chloride. It's about 40 percent sodium, which is the part that can negatively affect your health if you consume too much. And it's about 60 percent chloride, which is the part that provides the salty taste. We need some sodium to survive - our cells and body functions depend on it. But it takes a very small amount to meet our needs in contrast to the amount we end up eating each day in our food and the salt that we add to our food.

Table salt is finely ground and 1/4 tsp contains about 500 milligrams of sodium. Most table salt is also iodized, which means that it provides iodine in our diet. Iodine deficiency can lead to stunted growth, mental retardation and goiter. Since the 1920s, iodine has been added to salt to provide this nutrient in our diet.

Sea salt, on the other hand, is obtained by the evaporation of sea water. The grain may or may not be bigger than regular table salt, and there may be different minerals included with the sea salt, other than sodium and chloride, which may make the flavor be different than regular salt. Some people like this variation in the flavor and think that they use less salt because the flavor is better. On average, the sodium content of sea salt varies between 400 and 600 milligrams per 1/4 tsp.

There is another type of popular salt - known as kosher salt. This salt generally has a larger grain and usually does not have iodine added to it. Because the grain is larger, less fits into a tablespoon. Sometimes this product might taste saltier because the grain is a little larger. A 1/4 tsp. serving of this product would contain about 500-590 mg. of sodium.

As you can see, there isn't much difference between the sodium content of any of these products. Our body does need some sodium every day, but probably only 300-500 milligrams. Most foods naturally have some sodium, and many foods, especially processed foods, have a lot of sodium added to them. The average American consumes about 3,000-6,000 mg. of sodium each day. The recommendation for sodium consumption is about 1,500-2,300 mg per day, depending upon your health history. That may still seem like a pretty high number, but if you have actually spent time looking at labels, you know that it doesn't take long to reach those numbers.

Rather than lowering your salt intake by changing the type of salt you use, a better method would be to try to cut back on the total amount of salt you use and try other flavorings instead to perk up your food. Spices - onion, pepper, lemon, etc., are all good salt alternatives and taste great too! It takes awhile to get used to eating food that is lower in salt, but once you make the switch, you may be surprised at how salty some of the foods you used to enjoy taste.

So, as far as sea salt being a better product to use, it generally isn't lower in sodium than regular table salt unless you use less of it. But it may contain a different or better flavor that you may prefer, and that is the result of the minerals from the ocean providing the variance in flavor.

Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.

 
 

 

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