News, Salt Reduction

The Importance of Salt and the Dangers of Sodium

How much do you know about salt? Let’s take a look at this precious mineral to examine its benefits, its dangers, and some misconceptions about what makes a healthier salt.

Our relationship with salt began in ancient times. Over the centuries, it has impacted every aspect of human history: health, economics, religion, and even politics. 

During the Roman Empire, salt was so valuable that it was used as a form of currency. The word “salary” comes from salarium, the payment in salt that soldiers of the time received. 

While no longer worth its weight in gold, salt is still an essential part of our modern lives. From the standard table saltshaker to trendy new varieties like Himalayan rock salt our love affair with salt continues. 

In fact, people around the world consume excessive amounts of salt. The WHO estimates the global average daily sodium intake to be 4310mg (10.78g salt). This is more than double their recommended 2000mg of sodium per day.

But our dependence on salt is evolving. With the work of groups like the American Heart Association, Action on Salt, and the World Health Organization, people are more aware than ever before of the health risks of excessive dietary sodium. Reducing our daily sodium intake has become a goal for individuals, government agencies, and food manufacturers. 

Types of Salt

With many so-called gourmet and specialty salts appearing on the market, it can be confusing to know which salts are which. 

Essentially there are three main categories of salt: Pure Dried Vacuum Salt (PDV), Sea Salt, and Rock Salt. Although different, all are primarily composed of sodium chloride (NaCl). 

PDV salt is currently the most commonly used salt. It’s made when purified brine is evaporated under a vacuum process and then dried. This produces a pure, crystallized salt that can be further refined into a very fine particle (like table salt) or in a coarser grain. 

Because it’s highly refined, with all trace minerals removed from it, PDV is pure and consistent. This has historically made it the standard salt of the food manufacturing industry, where ingredients are closely controlled. However, PDV salt is very high in sodium.

The second type of salt is sea salt, extracted from seawater and naturally formed large bodies of water containing significant concentrations of sodium chloride. 

Traditionally, sea salt is processed by solar evaporation, where the water is collected in shallow pools and then dried out by the sun. That method is the most energy efficient. With increasing demand for sea salt it has become more common for salt producers to pump the seawater into hot heated pans to speed up and facilitate evaporation; which is very energy intensive compared to the traditional solar evaporation method. Sea salts typically have the same high level of sodium as PDV.

Aside from sodium chloride, the most plentiful minerals in seawater are magnesium, sulphur, calcium, and potassium. Depending on the source of the water, the sea salt harvested will always have a particular combination of these trace minerals. Its mineral profile gives each sea salt a unique flavour and colour. 

The last type of salt is Rock Salt, also known as halite. Rock salt is essentially sea salt that has solidified over time into a crystalline rock. Rock salts – just like the sea salt they’re made from – can contain a variety of other minerals. Trace amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, chromium, magnesium, and sulphate are common in rock salt specimens. These additional minerals can lend distinctive colours to the salt, ranging from light grey to wine red, to the pink of Himalayan rock salt. All of which are high in sodium.

What’s the healthiest salt? 

These days many sea salts and rock salts are marketed as having special health benefits. The truth is that most of these claims are unsupported by scientific analysis and the “healthy” mineral impurities in such specialty salts are far too low in concentration to provide any nutritional advantage. 

Therefore, and since the main types of salt are at least 90% sodium chloride (NaCl), the same dietary guidance applies to all of them. According to the FDA, this is less than 2,300mg of sodium (5.75g of salt) per day. The WHO, however, recommends no more than 2,000mg of sodium (5g of salt) each day.

The dangers of excessive sodium go beyond heart health

While awareness of the dangers of excessive sodium has increased, the risk is more serious than most people recognize. 

High blood pressure (hypertension) is called “the silent killer” because it often goes unnoticed before a medical emergency occurs. The CDC estimates that nearly 500,000 deaths in the US each year are related to high blood pressure. The message about sodium being harmful to heart health has now been broadly accepted. However, there are even more health issues associated with consuming too much salt. 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), just like cardiovascular disease, is caused by high blood pressure. As the kidneys struggle to process excess sodium in the blood, they retain more fluid, putting increased pressure on blood vessels.

Even with normal blood pressure, people can suffer serious effects from high sodium intake. Without increasing blood pressure, sodium can accelerate the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. 

A study from the World Cancer Research Fund names high-salt foods as a cause of stomach cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the world. 

Why giving up salt isn’t the answer

From our doctor’s advice, to media campaigns, to those red traffic lights on our food packaging – reminders of the danger of excessive salt are everywhere. So why not just eliminate salt entirely from our diets? 

While this may sound like a simple solution, the truth about salt is more complex. Salt is an essential nutrient and human life depends on a healthy amount of dietary sodium.

A daily sodium intake of 500mg a day is necessary to maintain vital bodily functions. But what, specifically, does sodium do for our bodies? 

To stay hydrated, we need a balance between sodium and potassium. Sodium is one of the electrolytes that prevents muscle cramping during exercise. A deficiency in these can cause irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and nausea. 

As part of its function in keeping the body hydrated, sodium supports the nervous system. A healthy level of hydration is necessary for the electrical conduction to send and receive nerve impulses.

Moreover, for food production, salt is an essential ingredient used as a preservative, agent for color maintenance, texture, flavor enhancement , and to regulate fermentation by stopping the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold. 

Simply put, as humans we’re unable to function properly without a small amount (500mg) of salt in our diets and most food is unable to be produced without salt being used too.

A balanced approach to salt and sodium

We need salt, but not too much sodium. So, what’s the solution to finding a balanced approach to sodium reduction? 

SALTWELL® is a unique natural ingredient that’s making a real positive difference in the movement to reduce sodium in processed foods. 

It’s a 100% natural salt which is solar-dried, sourced from an ancient underground sea. But it’s not just another ordinary sea salt because it naturally contains 35% less sodium than standard food grade PDV salt. 

A simple 1:1 replacement of standard salt to SALTWELL® delivers significant sodium reduction in foods, requiring no complicated reformulation nor any changes to production process. 

And unlike many salts that profess nutritional benefits, SALTWELL® has a real added value for wellness-minded consumers. The unique single-grain composition contains 15% potassium – promoting the essential healthy balance between sodium and potassium in the body. The WHO and USDA recommend an increase in potassium intake from food to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults. 

So now there’s no reason to be left out of the sodium reduction challenge. This natural, clean-label ingredient delivers significant sodium reduction, without changes to process or manufacturing methods. And it’s available in a range of grades to suit all wet and dry applications. All made to BRC and ISO standards, and all with 35% less sodium.

Learn more about what makes SALTWELL® the perfect partner in sodium reduction. Get in touch for a chat about how we can help you achieve your goals, or request samples.