Today you’ll hear from a reader friend, Dori, who was sweet enough to share this guest post on salt myths and what you need to know about salting your food. This issue is one that is very much misunderstood in the mainstream. Thanks, Dori!
Inside the drama of politically-correct nutrition, the advice is well-rehearsed and often repeated. So much so that even well-informed people are sometimes mistaken. Seemingly, all of the ‘experts’ agree, yet they frequently cite studies that are widely criticized, invalidated, or even disproven. The war on salt is a clear example of this. Waged since the 70’s, it isn’t based on current science, common sense, or traditional wisdom, yet the advice to limit salt is continually echoed.
The claim that salt intake causes high blood pressure first appeared just as MSG was being marketed as a salt substitute. Similarly, in 2011, just as another salt replacement was ready to market, the FDA made plans to legally limit the amount of salt allowed in food. Fortunately, many notable scientific and culinary defenders have stepped in to vindicate the role of salt in healthy diets. (The summer 2011 Wise Traditions article cites 14 separate studies.) The most recent and alarming study suggests that reducing salt intake may actually lead to increased deaths from heart disease.
Sodium chloride (salt) is as crucial to the processes of life as it is to preparing food.
Yet despite our biological need and natural taste for salt, we need to re-learn the art of salting food. We’ve been bombarded with industrial substitutes for salt and misleading marketing for the low-sodium diet. Furthermore, the salt we consume today is itself an industrial product that barely resembles the salt of our ancestors.
Table salt, kosher salt, and common sea salts all have been chemically purified and treated with anti-caking agents. Fortified salts have iodine added.  Thus, we’re presented with a question common in the traditional-foods community: How do I provide for this acute need, while avoiding strange-sounding additives and lifeless, industrial food? Luckily, the same answer is true: Seek out traditional and nutrient dense foods. (First, take a deep breath because all of this seems stressful – and stress really does elevate blood pressure!)
In the book Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, Mark Bitterman suggests these “5 Rules of Strategic Salting”. I really love these ‘rules’. They’re based on sound culinary wisdom, common sense, and the science discussed above.
- Eat all the salt you want, as long as you are the one doing the salting.
- Skew the use of salt towards the end of food preparation.
- Use only natural, unrefined salts. (Visit my sea salt sponsors!)
- Make salting a deliberate act.
- Use the right salt at the right time.
The first rule, “eat all the salt you want, as long as you are the one doing the salting” results in eating little or no processed food. Check out these links for making your own nutrient dense potato chips, crispy nuts and seeds, and stock for homemade soup:
Rule number three, “use only natural, unrefined salts” is my number one rule! There are three kinds of natural, unrefined salts commonly available: sel gris (commonly sold by the brand Celtic Sea Salt), Himalayan pink salt, and Jurassic salt (sold by the brand Real Salt).
- Sel gris (pronounced sell gree) is harvested through traditional methods in the Brittany region of France. The course translucent crystals are only about 85% sodium chloride. The remaining 15 % is trace minerals from the waters of the North Atlantic. Sel gris has a mild, sweet taste that makes it an excellent all-around cooking salt. It is available pre-ground, but I’ve come to love smoothing-out the coarse crystals in my marble mortar and pestle (there’s no need to grind salt that will be dissolved in liquid). (In fermentation and preservation recipes add 20% more of coarsely ground sel gris to ensure adequate sodium chloride).
- Himalayan pink salt is also harvested by traditional methods; hand-mined from the mountains of Pakistan. It is 99 % sodium chloride, so does not have the extra minerals of sel gris. But, because it is buried deep within the mountains, it is also entirely free from modern environmental contaminants. I prefer the pungent spicy taste of Himalayan pink salt for spice-centric dishes – like Latin or Indian food. It’s available pre-ground or in rock form (grate the rocks with a hard-cheese grater).
- Jurassic salt, like Himalayan pink salt is mined, but it is produced in Utah with industrial mining equipment. It is not a traditional salt, but it does have the virtue of being free from modern contaminants. It has a flat, balanced flavor and a gritty quality that some find unpleasant. However, when compared to the acrid, metallic taste of common table salt Jurassic salt is practically gourmet!
Mark and Lisa Bitterman’s “The Meadow”, a perception altering salt shop in Portland’s Mississippi neighborhood, highlights rule number five, “use the right salt at the right time”. I’m in awe at the variety of exceptional salts from around the world available here. These exquisite salts illustrate the universal nature of salt and its unique local expressions. If you are interested in worldwide artisanal salt production I highly recommend Mr. Bitterman’s James Beard Award winning book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral.
So, as the actors of the Politically-Correct Nutrition Tragedy launch into their oft-repeated, low-sodium monologue, you can be confident that common sense, science, and traditional wisdom have each affirmed the role of salt in the diet.
Salt is as essential to making good food as it is to maintaining health – just make sure you’re using whole, natural, unrefined salt… and taking plenty of deep breaths!
Dori develops recipes, blogs, teaches, and consults about gluten-free recipes, fermentation techniques, and nutrient-dense foods. Visit her at NourishingFoodways.com.
**Dori’s Disclaimer: I’m not a health-care professional. This article is based upon personal my opinions and research. Some individuals are highly salt sensitive. Always seek the advice of a health practitioner that you trust before altering your diet.
- Find quality sources of sea salt on the Kitchen Kop resources page!
- See “Reducing Dietary Sodium: The Case for Caution” from the February 2010 JAMA.
- See “It’s Time to End the War on Salt: The Zealous Drive by Politicians to Limit Our Salt Intake Has Little Basis in Science from the July 2011 Scientific American.
- See “The Salt of the Earth: Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness” from the Summer 2011 Wise Traditions.
- Read the book Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral by Mark Bitterman.
 Sally Fallon Morell “The Salt of the Earth: Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” Wise Traditions (Summer 2012): 29-43.
 Fallon Morell, 29-34.
 Michael Alderman, “Reducing Dietary Sodium: The Case for Caution,” Journal of the American Medical Association (February 3, 2010): 448-49.
 Fallon Morell, 29-34.
 Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes (New York: Ten Speed, 2010).
 Bitterman, 165.