Sodium still a concern with pricey types of salt

chow_021216-186234502My wife recently bought some pink Himalayan salt. Besides being pretty, it’s expensive and isn’t even iodized. Is it somehow healthier?  

Different types of salt might provide distinct flavors. Some chefs and others with refined palates swear by one type or another. Others, though, really can’t tell a difference.

As far as nutrition goes, your instincts are correct. All salt contains sodium, which is the nutrient of concern when it comes to salt. Americans average about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, but the recommended level is 2,300 milligrams, or even less — 1,500 milligrams a day for people over 50, African Americans, or anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

The body needs a modest amount of sodium, but 9 in 10 Americans go way overboard, contributing to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and even headaches. In fact, according to a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, if everyone reduced their sodium intake to recommended amounts, up to 66,000 strokes and 99,000 heart attacks could be prevented annually.

Different kinds of salt might provide varying amounts of sodium, but the levels between them are negligible. It’s important to know, too, that the vast majority of sodium consumed in the American diet comes from highly processed foods. A cup of soup contains up to 940 milligrams of sodium. One slice of bologna has almost 300 milligrams. A slice of bread may have up to 230 milligrams.

That’s one reason it’s so important to read Nutrition Facts labels and examine them for sodium content, or purchase foods with “sodium-free” or “very low sodium” on the label.

You should also be aware that the salt used in processed foods is rarely, if ever, iodized. In the U.S., iodine started to be added to table salt in 1924 to reduce the risk of goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland resulting from iodine deficiency. Adults need about 150 micrograms of iodine a day, and most of it comes naturally from foods: fish, including cod, tuna, shrimp and other types of seafood; dairy products; and breads and cereals. Fruits and vegetables also provide varying amounts of iodine, depending on how much is in the soil where they’re grown. So, with a healthful, balanced diet, it’s likely you don’t need the iodine — much less the sodium — delivered from the saltshaker. A quarter-teaspoon of iodized salt provides 95 micrograms of iodine and nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.

To reduce sodium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce) or no salt added canned vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, pork and lean meat rather than canned or processed meats. Check to see if saline or salt solution has been added — if so, choose another brand.
  • Limit your use of sauces, mixes and “instant” products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.

For more details, see cdc.gov/salt.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Colleen Spees, registered dietitian and assistant professor with Ohio State University Extension and The Ohio State University’s Division of Medical Dietetics and Health Science.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

From land or sea, salt is salt

Why do some recipes call for sea salt instead of regular salt? Is it healthier? What about kosher salt?

There’s very little difference, chemically speaking, between these types of salt. All are at least 97.5 percent sodium chloride and have a similar amount of sodium by weight.

Sea salt, which comes from evaporated seawater, often has a different texture than regular table salt, which is the primary reason you’ll see it recommended in some recipes. It can come coarsely ground or in flakes, offering a bit of flair when sprinkled on top of a dish. Some people say the flavor of sea salt is softer than regular salt, or that the minuscule amounts of other minerals in sea salt provide a distinct flavor, but that’s debatable.

Table salt comes from underground salt deposits. It’s normally more heavily processed than sea salt to remove other minerals, and it contains an additive to prevent clumping. Most table salt also contains iodine, which helps prevent goiter, a thyroid gland condition. Even if you go easy on salt, you’re probably getting enough iodine from the iodized salt you do use.

Kosher salt is a coarse-grain salt used to prepare kosher meats. It contains no iodine, so it’s often recommended for use in canning and pickling because iodine can cause an adverse reaction with some foods during those processes.

A teaspoon of any coarse-grain salt will actually contain less salt, and therefore less sodium, than smaller-grain salt. There simply are larger air pockets in a measure of coarse salt. That’s evident if you compare the weight of a teaspoon of coarse salt with a teaspoon of regular salt: The regular salt will be heavier because it’s more densely packed.

One teaspoon of regular table salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium, or about one day’s worth. But most sodium people consume isn’t from the salt shaker. In fact, many high-sodium foods don’t even taste salty. A package of flavored oatmeal can have more sodium than a bag of chips. Fresh poultry is often saturated with a high-sodium solution to tenderize the meat. Get into the habit of checking sodium content on Nutrition Facts labels.

Health professionals recommend limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams for people who are likely to experience health problems from high sodium. That includes anyone 51 or older, African Americans of any age, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

For ideas on how to cut back on sodium, see the “10 Tips Nutrition Education Series” onhttp://www.choosemyplate.gov and download the “Salt and Sodium” fact sheet, or learn more athttp://www.cdc.gov/salt.