Dietary Salt
Patricia Zifferblatt | December 23, 2008

Salt is a dietary mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride. The sodium and chloride ions are essential for all human life because it is necessary for regulating the fluid balance in our body. Without it, we would die. But, having too much of it can also cause serious problems, and even death. While we tend to think of salt as being mostly a seasoning for our food, its importance to people over the centuries is seen in its use in religious ceremonies, rites, and as a form of payment to Roman solders (this is how the words, salary and soldier came into existence). Today, only about 17.5% of refined salt that is produced is used for food. Almost all the rest is used in industry. For example, salt is used in the paper and pulp industry, the manufacture of textile dyes, and in the making of soaps and detergents. It has also been a valuable preservative.

Different salts have different types and percentages of minerals, giving each one a unique flavor. Sea salt has different flavors, depending upon what region it comes from. Salt is either refined or it’s unrefined. While some people believe that unrefined sea salt is healthier than refined salt, it is generally not eaten because it tastes bitter. Another use of sea salt is in the production of bath salts and cosmetics.

Today, most of our refined salt comes from rock salt which was formed when lakes high in salt content evaporated. After this raw salt is obtained, it undergoes a refining process that purifies it. Then, an anti-caking agent is added to prevent the salt crystals from sticking together. Salts that have been ground into fine grains include table salt, pickling salt, popcorn salt, and iodized salt. Iodized salt is table salt that has been mixed with a small amount of potassium iodide, sodium iodide, or iodate. The purpose for adding an iodine compound is to reduce the incidence of iodine deficiency in humans. Iodine deficiency commonly leads to thyroid problems, so with its addition to table salt, there has been a significant reduction in thyroid disease in most countries around the world. The type and amount of iodine compound added to the salt varies from country to country. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005) recommend that U.S. citizens consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day (i.e., less than 5.8 grams of salt per day).

Rock salt and kosher salt are coarse-grained. Sea salt can be found in both the finely-ground form and the coarse-grained variety. Kosher salt contains no additives and, because it has big crystals with large surface areas, it is excellent for curing meats. The term “kosher” does not mean that it conforms to Jewish food laws. But because it is used to make meat kosher, it was given the name kosher salt. Nutritionally speaking, kosher salt is no different from table salt, except that it does not have iodine added. But because it’s larger crystals have a distinct flavor, many cooks prefer to use it in all their cooking.

So, each type of salt – kosher, sea salt, iodized, and non-iodized – has its place in our life. But, for our everyday use, the iodized table salt should be used by us on a consistent basis to prevent iodine deficiency and thyroid problems. However, there is no harm in using non-iodized salts such as sea salt and kosher salt to enhance the flavor of some foods during cooking.

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