Today’s ubiquitous table salt is the center of power-struggles and politicized battles within the health-care community. Ancient empires, like those of Rome and China, valued salt and the social power that controlling it offered. Because the potassium to sodium ratio in vegetables and grains isn’t ideal for people, all agricultural peoples require supplemental Sodium in the form of salt. For an example of the symbolic and economic importance of salt we only need to look as far back in history as 1930 and to the political statement conferred by the Salt March (a peaceful resistance movement, organized by Ghandi, in response to British monopoly of salt in India; and by extension a peaceful resistance to British colonial control of the country).
Sodium and chloride (the chemical building blocks of salt) are needed for some of the most basic functions of the body. Sodium maintains fluid balance and ph of the blood. Chloride is essential for digestion, maintaining ph, and for potassium absorption.
Still, contention surrounds this utterly unique and essential food. Some health authorities, argue that consuming more salt than recommended increases the likelihood of high-blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, while other highly-qualified authorities question the salt/ high-blood pressure connection.
In 2010 the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that it was beginning a 10-year program to implement legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in foods. While, the administration relies upon studies that link cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure with high salt intake, other studies, like the frequently cited Intersalt Study find no link between salt intake and high-blood pressure. To complicate matters even further, one recent study has found that low-salt diets actually increase mortality rates.
This same study, published in the May 2010 edition of the JAMA, found that worldwide salt intake is within a relatively small range (around 3700 mg. per day) . This suggests that humans consume relatively equal amounts of salt across cultures. Thus, recommendations to reduce salt intake might be unwarranted and perhaps even harmful to public welfare in the long-run. This fact was featured in the July 8, 2011 Scientific American article “It’s Time to End the War on Salt” .
The average American consumes 75% of their salt from processed convenience food and restaurant food. These industrial foods rely on salt as the main flavor enhancer. As proof, “low-sodium” versions of these foods don’t sell well. Furthermore, the salt within industrial food is itself an industrial product, as highly refined as white sugar or white flour. Industrially produced sea salt is about 99.5% sodium chloride. The remaining .5% is made up of industrial anti-caking agents like calcium silicate, sodium ferocyanide, and magnesium carbonate.
Natural unrefined sea salt is about 85% sodium chloride, and it contains no anti-caking agents. The other 15% is made up of trace minerals from the ocean. Thus, it is naturally lower in sodium than industrially produced salt and has no chemical additives. The exact mineral composition of the salt varies depending on the source sea-water and the process used to extract the salt. The abundant minerals offer layers of flavor and added nutrition.
When foods are made from scratch, whole, unrefined salts can be included to enhance the natural flavors and enhance health. Bitterman suggests five rules of strategic salting. I find them to be rational guideposts in the fleeting power-struggles and controversies surrounding salt.
Bitterman’s Five Rules of Strategic Salting:
- 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
- Make salting a deliberate act
- Use the right salt at the right time
For an in-depth exploration of the fascinating subject of whole, unrefined, artisanally produced salts I highly recommend Mr. Bitterman’s book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes. Those of you in Portland, Oregon and New York city can visit the internationally renown shop The Meadow, at 3731 N. Mississippi Avenue in Portland, and at 523 Hudson Street in New York. Visit the store online, and Mark and Jennifer Bitterman’s blog Salt News.
Next Week, More Than Salt Part Two: Whole, Unrefined Cooking Salts
 Kurlansky, Salt, 9.
 James F. Balch and Phyllis A. Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fifth Edition: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements (Garden City Park: Avery, 1997), 29.
 Sally Fallon-Morell, “The Salt of the Earth: Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” Wise Traditions 12-2 (2011): 29-38, http://www.westonaprice.org/vitamins-and-minerals/the-salt-of-the-earth.
 Lyndsey Layton, “FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons” The Washington Post, 20 April, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/19/AR2010041905049.html.
[iv] Melinda Wenner Moyer, “It’s Time to End the War on Salt: The Zealous Drive by Politicians to Limit Our Salt Intake Has Little Basis in Science,” Scientific American, 8 July 2011, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt.
 Fallon-Morell, “The Salt”.
 Michael H Alderman, “Reducing Dietary Soduium: The Case For Caution” JAMA 303 (2010): 448-449, http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/303/5/448.short?rss=1
 Wenner Moyer, “It’s Time”.
 Layton, “FDA Plans”.
 Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (Berkley: North Atlantic, 2002), 196.
 Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes (New York: Ten Speed, 2010), 191.
 Bitterman, Salted, 165.
 Bitterman, Salted, 81.
 Bitterman, Salted, 196.