Would you please pass the (sea) salt?

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, February 19, 2015

By David Crocker

The role salt has played throughout history is quite compelling. Settlements would set up their communities around salt deposits, and in ancient Greece, laborers would take part of their wages in salt. During medieval times the only way to preserve meats, other than smoking them, was by salting. In fact before refrigeration, the only way to preserve milk was to make it into cheese, which also required salt.


Salt is a mineral composed of 39 percent sodium by weight, and 61 percent chloride. While our bodies do need chloride, most of the nutritional attention these days is given to sodium.

Sodium is essential for life. In fact, it is so important, that we have specific sensors on our tongues to detect it. Sodium is crucial for maintaining the health of every cell in our bodies. It plays a pivotal role in controlling fluid flow in and out of cells, and is present in fluid between cells. This is called extracellular fluid. Potassium is also present in the fluid inside cells, called intracellular fluid.

These two minerals need to be in constant balance so that nutrients and waste products can move across cell membranes. If either of these minerals is in over abundance or is deficient, cellular health will be compromised.

Sodium plays other important roles in our body. These include controlling blood volume, transmission of electrical nerve impulses, muscle contraction and contraction of blood vessels in response to nervous stimulation. While it’s obviously clear we need sodium to exist, obtaining too much, and the wrong kinds of sodium is harmful. Consuming excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure. Research also shows that too much sodium is associated with stroke, calcium deficiency, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, stomach cancers, fluid retention, and weight gain.

However, reducing sodium too much can be just as dangerous. Too little sodium can cause poor heart rhythms, sudden death and heart attack in hypertensive patients.

So how much sodium is too much? According to the Food and Drug Administration, we should consume no more than 2,400 milligrams per day. This may sound like a lot, but the average American consumes between 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams a day. Humans eat more salt than any other mammal, and also have more health problems, too.

When it comes to purchasing salt, I don’t recommend commercially refined salt. This type of salt is stripped of all its nutrients except for sodium and chloride, and is heated to such high temperatures that the chemical structure of the salt can change. Also, the two most common anti-caking agents used in commercial salts are sodium aluminosilicate and alumino-calcium silicate. These are both sources of aluminum, which is a toxic metal. Aluminum has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

When purchasing salt I recommend natural sea salt. Sea salt is produced by the evaporation of seawater. It does contain 81 trace minerals, but is a poor source of iodine. Since most commercial salts are enriched with iodine, you’ll need to supplement your diet with iodine when switching from regular salt to sea salt. Food sources of iodine include seafood, fresh fish, kelp, and seaweed. I recommend only 150 mcg of iodine a day.

Remember, sodium is added to so many foods by manufactures that it’s hard to avoid, and many foods contain tremendous amounts of sodium even though they don’t taste salty. Become a label reader. It’s the best way to know just how much sodium you’re getting.

Diet or exercise question? Contact me at dwcrocker77@gmail.com, or visit fitness4yourlife.org. David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 26 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for USC Spartanburg baseball team, S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He has been a water safety consultant to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency and taught four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.