Types of salt and their effect on health
Sea salt and rock salt
Gourmet rock and sea salts have been popularised by TV chefs who sprinkle them liberally on their culinary creations. Due to their premium image and the misleading claims of manufacturers declaring that their product is ‘natural’, contains ‘essential minerals’, and is a ‘tastier and healthier alternative’ to table salt, there is a popular belief that these salts are better for us. A recent Which? survey reveals that more than one in four Which? (28%) members think rock and sea salts are healthier than table salt.It is understood that many people are switching to more expensive and premium forms of salt, such as sea salt and rock salt, because they believe that they are healthier than table salt. In fact one survey has shown that 61% of consumers believe that sea salt is lower in sodium than table salt. Garlic salt and celery salt are also popular alternatives to standard table salt. Companies and chefs often highlight the fact that sea salt has been used in a food with the implication that it makes it a tastier and more natural product.
Do not be deceived! Salt is salt. No matter how expensive salt is, whether it comes in crystals or grains, from the sea or from the Himalayas, a new CASH survey has found they all contain an equally high sodium chloride content as table and cooking salt. Sodium and chloride combine to form salt (NaCl), it is this combination of minerals which puts up our blood pressure, leading to strokes, heart failure and heart disease. Aside from certain alternatives to sodium salts such as Potassium salt (see below), all salts are equally damaging to our health, don’t be fooled by the claims made by salt manufacturers.
Garlic salt and celery salt are also popular alternatives to standard table salt. These products are made predominantly of table, rock or sea salt combined with small amounts of dried garlic or celery. The salt component is still sodium chloride so these too should be limited as with rock and sea salt.
Salts which contain a combination of sodium and potassium chloride are now widely available in the UK. The most widely available and used product is Lo Salt.
Potassium salts have up to 70% less sodium than standard table salt so do not carry the same high risks as sodium based salts. Potassium salts may even have a beneficial effect on your blood pressure because potassium is an antagonist of sodium.
Potassium salts can be used in the same way as standard table salt and many people feel they do replace their need for salt. However, other people have reported a metallic after taste and therefore choose not to use them. Another problem with using potassium salts is that, although you have less sodium, you still have salty tasting foods and therefore your preferences for salt is not changed.
People with kidney disease or diabetes should seek medical advice before using potassium salts, as an increase in potassium intake may not be advisable.
A study from Ireland demonstrated that lasagne produced with reduced salt levels and potassium salt scored higher for taste than the ‘normal’ salt version. The lower salt lasagna had nearly 30% less salt than the normal lasagne, without affecting the overall taste and saltiness of the finished product
CASH acknowledges that iodine deficiency is a potentially serious problem in the UK, particularly in teenage girls and in unplanned pregnancies. However, we are concerned about the public health implication of using iodized table salt as the solution.
Using table salt as a vehicle for carrying iodine is, in our view, not sensible as it requires us to put something that is potentially good into something that is known to be bad for our health. We feel that, given the high intake of salt we have in the UK and the progress that is being made, making salt beneficial to our diet is a conflict in public health. If people are aware of their need to increase iodine consumption we do not want them to think that increasing their intake of table salt is the answer. More than anything this is a confusing message for consumers.
Adjusting to lower salt foods
Reducing the amount of salt in your food (without the use of salty tasting substitutes) is the preferable way that you can improve your health, although it can take awhile as foods may initially taste bland. However, within two or three weeks you will become accustomed to the taste of lower salt foods. During this time the salt taste receptors in the mouth become much more sensitive to salt and you will begin to detect a salty taste in anything which you previously ate. Using other sources of flavour, such as herbs, spices, black pepper, vinegar, lemon juice and chilli can improve completely the taste of food to make the transition even easier for you. Once the salt taste receptors have adjusted, you will find that high salt foods will taste unpleasant. The same applies to fatty and sugary foods.
Salt reduction in processed foods
There is a currently a huge amount of pressure on the food industry to reduce the salt content of the processed foods that they sell. A lot of research is going into finding ways that salt can be reduced in foods without affecting any of the sensory characteristics such as taste and texture. The solutions to date range from simply using potassium salt to using micro fine salt crystals which, even when a small amount is used, can give an intense salty flavour. Flavour enhancers have also been explored as a way of increasing salty taste so that the salt level can be reduced.
How you can help
Although there has been significant progress in reducing the salt content of processed foods, There is a lot more that can be done. The food industry claims that none of their customers ever tell them they want foods with less salt. Unless consumers demand it, they are less likely to make changes and the changes they do make will be done slowly. You can help by adding your voice. Why not write to your local supermarket about them about the very high salt and fat content of nearly all of the processed foods that they sell. Tell them that you need processed foods that contain far less salt and fat. Click here for more information on how you can get involved.