My clients often hear me say, “Eat the rainbow,” and this is just as true for salt as it is for fruits and veggies.
When we hear “sodium,” we typically think NaCl, or sodium chloride, the stripped down, stark white, barebones version commonly used as table salt, Kosher salt, and in processed foods. Sodium chloride might be the backbone of all salts, but pure sodium chloride isn’t how salt is found in nature.
Naturally occurring salt contains at least 75 trace elements, including manganese, iodine, boron, zinc, iron, copper, and fluoride. These minerals are critical for various functions in the body and must be obtained from our foods. These trace elements are also what gives various kinds of salts their characteristic colors. For instance, Himalayan salt is rosy pink due to higher concentrations of iron and copper, compared to grey salts like Celtic salt and sel gris, which obtain their characteristic color from the clay beds from which they are harvested.
Most people aren’t eating the pretty colorful salt, though. The majority of salt consumed by Americans comes directly from processed foods, stripped of any accompanying minerals.
Despite commonly held fears about “eating too much salt,” sodium is a necessary element. The high amounts of sodium in processed foods can create excess, leading to bloating and hypertension. However, we need do need some to maintain blood pressure and balance our fluids, as well as to help conduct impulses in nerves and the heart. Sodium deficiency has even been correlated with depressed mood and decreased cognitive function! And if you have low blood pressure, salt should be the first thing you reach for.
Salt is also a necessary ingredient in fermented foods to create brine: Its sterile quality helps to control the progression of microbes as they ferment the food while also inhibiting pathogenic microbes. (Learn more about this amazing function of salt at my upcoming Fearless Fermentation class – click here to register!).
Besides eating fermented foods, another great way to get enough good quality dietary salt is from sole (soh-LAY), a drink made of water and concentrated Himalayan salt. Start by filling a jar with 1 part Himalayan salt and 3 parts water, and allow the salt to dissolve on its own. This is the sole mother. A tablespoon of sole is mixed into a full glass of water to be drunk in the morning on waking. Sole is useful for balancing electrolytes, promoting adequate stomach acid, and calming the immune system to promote better sleep. (Note: Do not try sole if you have high blood pressure or significant nutrient deficiencies until these are corrected.)
If you feel you are consuming too much good quality salt, in order to cut back in cooking, use ample spices and an acidic ingredient to enhance the flavor – lemon or lime juice or vinegar, for instance, can brighten a dish and decrease the reliance of salt to enhance flavors.
I like to rotate between pink Himalayan, Celtic, and Redmond’s Real salts to get exposure to a variety of trace elements, and I’m liberal in the salting of my food, aiming for at least 1 tsp of colored salts each day for adults. (If you’re in the 10% of the US population that is salt sensitive, you’ll want to pay attention to the impact of salt consumption on your blood pressure and adjust accordingly.)
Venture over to Mountain Rose Herbs for a fantastic selection of colorful gourmet salts. Natural Grocers also has the best pricing on bulk Redmond’s and pink Himalayan salts.