The War on Salt: 5 Easy Rules for Salting Your Food

July 10, 2012 · 15 comments

the war on salt

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 war on saltThe claim that salt intake causes high blood pressure first appeared just as MSG was being marketed as a salt substitute.[1] 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.[2] 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[3].

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. [4] 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”.[5] I really love these ‘rules’. They’re based on sound culinary wisdom, common sense, and the science discussed above.

  1. Eat all the salt you want, as long as you are the one doing the salting.
  2. Skew the use of salt towards the end of food preparation.
  3. Use only natural, unrefined salts.  (Visit my sea salt sponsors!)
  4. Make salting a deliberate act.
  5. 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:

*How to Make Homemade Potato Chips

*A Recipe for Crispy Nuts

*Crispy Nuts and Seeds Recipe

*How to Make Delicious and Nutritious Homemade Stock

*Chicken Stock Recipe

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.[6] 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.


[1] Sally Fallon Morell “The Salt of the Earth: Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” Wise Traditions (Summer 2012): 29-43.

[2] Fallon Morell, 29-34.

[3] Michael Alderman, “Reducing Dietary Sodium: The Case for Caution,” Journal of the American Medical Association (February 3, 2010): 448-49.

[4] Fallon Morell, 29-34.

[5] Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes (New York: Ten Speed, 2010).

[6] Bitterman, 165.

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  • { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Toni July 10, 2012 at 9:03 am

    We have been using agricultural grade sea salt from Mexico. (This would be a fourth type to those listed). It is also traditionally derived, but because of its unrefined state is very inexpensive. It has all the good characteristics of the “gris” (grey) salt. We grind it in a salt grinder or, for larger amounts at a time, in a wheat grinder. seaagri.com.

    Reply

    2 Rhonda Rogalski July 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Just curious – is the salt used in salt rock lamps (the large pink hunks) the Himalayan Pink salt you were referring to?

    Reply

    3 Dori @ Nourishing Foodways July 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Rhonda,
    Yes – Himalayan Pink Salt is used in salt lamps, serving trays, bowls and even cooking slabs!
    Thanks for your question! I wanted to mention something about that – you gave me the opportunity!
    Best,
    Dori

    Reply

    4 Stanley Fishman July 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    It is interesting to note that almost all people in rest homes are put on salt restricted diets regardless of their individual needs. I wonder if this contributes to the high dementia and death rates so common to these facilities?

    Reply

    5 Dori @ Nourishing Foodways July 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Hi everyone!
    I’m so delighted to be sharing this info with your readers Kelly!
    Rhonda, yes – Himalayan Pink Salt is used in salt lamps, serving trays, bowls and even cooking slabs!
    Best,
    Dori

    Reply

    6 J in VA July 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    What about Realsalt?

    We’ve been using it for several years. I only use boxed salt to scrub my cast iron skilllets (LOL)!

    http://www.realsalt.com/

    Reply

    7 Dori @ Nourishing Foodways July 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    J –
    Yes, Real Salt is the brand name of Jurassic style salt.
    Best,
    Dori
    p.s. Just yesterday I saw my brand M salt shaker under my sink- with the cleaners!

    Reply

    8 yasmine July 10, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I read that alot of regular as well as sea salt contains mercury.since its from the sea…i have to furthur research which kind dont…just thought i would share

    Reply

    9 MacKenzie July 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    We buy table salt for playdough purposes but I’ve learned to keep it together with our white flour, food coloring and cream of tarter in a bin so there is no confusion if my husband cooks something :-) The rest of the time it is realsalt for us.

    Reply

    10 Nancy July 15, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Can you use salt that you buy for melting ice in the winter?

    Reply

    11 KitchenKop July 15, 2012 at 11:46 am

    For that I’d buy cheap salt, not the quality kinds for putting on your food.

    Kelly

    Reply

    12 Katie M. July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    We use the Himalayan salt, we prefer the taste of it to the Celtic salt.

    Reply

    13 Jasanna July 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Yikes! My seasalt does have anticaking agents in it that are who knows what….and I also, wonder about the mercury thing! is there a way go buy the good for you stuff at a good price?

    Reply

    14 Dori Oliver July 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Hi Jasanna, Yasime & All-
    About the contamination of sea salt (the Mercury thing) Sally Fallon states pg.49 on Nourishing Traditions “The best and purest commercially available source of unrefined sea salt is the natural salt marshes of Brittany where it is “farmed” according to ancient methods”. Nourishing Traditions is getting dated, so there may be other commercially available low- contaminant sea salts, but I’ve always stuck with Sally’s recommendation an buy the brand name Celtic Sea Salt from the Brittany region of Northern France.

    The most inexpensive way to purchase it is in large, unground crystals in bulk. Check out Kelly’s resources page – there’s a link in the article.

    Best,
    Dori

    Reply

    15 MaryAnn December 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Because of high blood pressure I, too, watch the sodium. But, I love my salt!!! In my salt shaker, I mix 1 part each: fine Himalayan salt and “No Salt” (potassium chloride).
    Now, I’m getting much needed life-giving potassium and still getting the ‘all-to-easy-to-get’ sodium. RDA for sodium= 2,300mg (1,500mg if salt-restricted) and RDA for potassium= 4,000mg! Great info here, Kelly! BTW, having the Guinness pot roast, AGAIN!!! Third time this month!

    Reply

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