Table Salt vs Sea Salt, What Do You Know About Them?
We hear a lot about salt in the diet and how too much can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems. Here, however, let’s look at the two main types of salt—table salt and sea salt—and ask, What do you know about them?
From the multi-holed shakers on tables to the little packets stuffed into fast food bags and the sodium found in processed foods, salt is ubiquitous in the Western diet and others around the world. Yet not all salt is the same in terms of appearance, taste, processing, and presence of trace elements.
Table salt is the form most people are familiar with: it’s the white, easy-flowing substance that is typically extracted from underground deposits. The mined material is heavily processed, which eliminates many minerals, and then a number of ingredients are added, such as iodide (iodine) and anticaking agents.
Table salt is made up of the following components, with slight variations between brands and manufacturers: 97-99% sodium chloride, along with minute amounts of calcium, sulfate, magnesium, copper, and/or iron, and anticaking additives such as sodium silico aluminum or magnesium carbonate. Salt is also bleached to make it white.
You may be wondering why iodine is added to salt. Decades ago health experts decided salt was a good vehicle for adding necessary iodine to the diet since everyone used and/or consumed salt in some form. Iodine is essential for the thyroid gland to make thyroxine and triiodothyronine, two hormones necessary for metabolic function.
It’s best not to count on the iodine in salt to help you reach your daily recommended allowance of 150 micrograms for men and women, however. A report in Environmental Science and Technology reported on a study of more the 80 types of common brands of iodized salt and found that more than half of them did not fulfill the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation for healthy levels of iodine.
Sea salt is made by evaporating water from the ocean or saltwater lakes. Once the water has evaporated, what’s left behind is raw sea salt that is often gray but may also be pink or orange.
Regardless of the color, sea salt typically contains a variety of trace minerals. These minerals are what give sea salt a distinct taste and texture that differ from that of regular table salt.
Some people prefer sea salt over table salt because of the difference in taste, the fact that it is minimally processed, and/or because it naturally contains many trace minerals. Sea salt may harbor 50 or more trace elements, including but not limited to magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, manganese, boron, copper, silver, iron, thallium, germanium, and iodine.
Sea salt is sometimes named by the area from which it is harvested. Celtic sea salt is gathered from France near the Celtic Sea, while Himalayan sea salt is from the Himalayan Mountain region.
Proponents of sea salt say it offers health benefits associated with the many trace elements it provides and that these elements typically are not found in nutritional supplements or food in a form bioavailable for the body. Others claim there is little difference between table salt and sea salt except the price, which is considerably higher for the latter form of seasoning.
Table salt or sea salt?
Should you use table salt or sea salt (or any salt at all)? The choice is up to you (with your healthcare provider’s advice if applicable). One important thing to remember about table salt vs sea salt comes from the American Heart Association (AHA).
According to Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, and an AHA spokesperson, “It’s very important for people to be aware that sea salt has as much sodium as table salt,” which is about 40 percent. A key factor in maintaining heart health is to control your intake of sodium, so if you think sea salt has less sodium so you can use more of it, that’s not the case.
Whether you use table salt or sea salt, remember that the recommended daily limit for sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams per day. If you are older than 51, are black, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or heart disease, you should limit your intake to 1,500 mg and try tasty alternatives to season your food.
American Heart Association
Dasgupta PK et al. Iodine nutrition: iodine content of iodized salt in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology 2008 Jan 9; 42(4): 1315-23