“…Unrefined salts, whether mined from the earth or harvested from the sea, contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, often in the same balance as are found in human blood. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolise the sodium better. Indeed, potassium and magnesium work synergistically with sodium to regulate water balance and nerve and muscle impulses. The more sodium you eat, the more potassium and magnesium you need to maintain balance. Few of us get enough of these elements in our diets, yet we eat high amounts of sodium in salt.
Refined, industrial grade table salt, on the other hand, has had all of these trace elements removed. It is pure sodium chloride, with an anti-caking agent and, in some cases, iodine added in.
If the concept of table salt as an industrial product jars, consider that like so many of the products we use, the popular form that salt eventually takes depends on what is most profitable for industry. Only around seven per cent of the salt produced goes for food; the other 93 per cent goes to industry, which requires chemically pure sodium chloride for the manufacture of explosives, chlorine gas, baking soda, fertilisers and plastics.
The addition of iodine to table salt is a real problem and makes the ‘simple’ table salt so many of us rely on little more than a poison.
In 1995 the World Health Assembly adopted the concept of universal salt iodisation (USI), – the iodisation of salt for human and livestock consumption – in order to eliminate iodine deficiency disease (IDD) and related disorders such as goitre, cretinism, myxedema in adults and neurological disorders in children. As a result countries around the world routinely require all salt to contain added iodine (apart from kosher salt, which contains no additives).
The problem is that iodising salt is a crude form of prevention more appropriate for those living in conditions of famine. People eating a relatively well-balanced diet are not at risk of iodine deficiency because iodine is widely available in sea fish, shellfish, eggs, cereal grains, legumes and dairy products from cows fed with iodised salt. Certain food additives also contain iodine.
But there are also hidden sources of iodine that mean most of us get too much. These include cough expectorants, antiseptics, certain drugs such as sulphonamide, lithium, dopamine, steroids, aspirin and certain heart and antidiabetic drugs. Natural supplements such as kelp and seaweed also contain high
levels of iodine.
Enforced medication with iodised salt adds greatly to our iodine intake, and as a result people in the West are risking iodine overload. As much as 75 per cent of the body’s iodine is stored in the thyroid gland and is used for the production of hormones that regulate metabolism. Too much iodine and levels of these hormones catn become dangerously unbalanced, leading to metabolic as well as immune disorders.
In Galicia, in northwest Spain, where iodised salt is mandatory, there is an abnormally high incidence of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), particularly among women. In Japan and the US, where intake of iodised salt is highest, the problems of too much iodine are responsible for health problems such as including thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) and hyperthyroidism, which can produce, among other symptoms, increased heart rate and blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), excessive sweating, hand tremors (shakiness), nervousness and anxiety, and difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
As with everything you put in your body, it is worth being both inquisitive and demanding when it comes to salt choices.
Better choices include mined or rock salt and sea salt – as long as they are unrefined. The labels on salt packaging aren’t always clear in this regard. If you look at the ingredients and the only thing on it is sodium chloride, however, then you know that your so-called ‘healthy’ natural salt is just as refined as regular salt.
Unrefined salt is generally not the pure white colour that most of us are used to; it tends to be off-white, or pink – like the rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt, for instance – or grey as in Atlantic or Celtic salt (some sea salts also take on unique tints from the clay pans in which they crystallise). The colours hint at the minerals within. In fact, genuinely unrefined rock salt can contain more than 90 different trace elements.
Unrefined salt without an added anti-caking agent also tends to clump over time as it absorbs moisture from the air – so it can‘t be put in dainty salt-shaker. It’s chemical make-up is far more balanced than that of industrial salt, though, and some nutritionists believe it is as healing for our bodies as table salt is damaging, though there is a frustrating paucity of research to back this up….”