Since we are all such unique individuals, foods that are health-supportive for some may actually work against or be an allergen for others. In the field of nutrition, this apparent contradiction has sparked lively debate and controversy, most recently when the FDA declared salt our enemy.

The government’s solution to reclaim our health is to wage war against salt.

Really? Sure, there is a small percentage of the population that is sensitive to salt, but that’s not the case for everyone. Furthermore, the evidence to support the notion that “high” levels of salt intake can lead to hypertension and premature death is decidedly weak. In fact, there are scientific studies proving that too much salt restriction can actually be harmful to our health.

We should understand what the real problem is and also what need not cause us concern.

Processed food, which is nutritionally lacking and makes up a huge portion of the average American diet, is definitely a major factor in the decline of our overall health. And virtually all fast and processed foods are saturated with highly-refined table salt which has been overheated and chemically treated. Has the government imposed any limits on how much junk food we should eat? Certainly everyone could benefit from reducing his/her intake of processed food, but is it all due to salt? What about salt in home-cooked food?

I think we need to take the government’s advice with a grain of salt, so to speak.

Sodium is actually vital to our health. It supports the nervous system, as well as the function of the adrenal glands. Salt aids in digestion and helps maintain a proper fluid balance in the body. The good news is that a more natural option to table salt exists in the form of unrefined coarse grey Celtic sea salt. Whereas table salt contains a mere two essential minerals, grey sea salt contains eighty-two of the eighty-four mineral elements originally in the ocean. Also, when rehydrated and mixed with food, it completely harmonize with the body’s own fluids. Furthermore, cooking with sea salt supplements your diet, since some of the essential minerals present in sea salt are not naturally present in the plant world, and even more have been depleted from the soil in which today’s crops grow.

For those of you not willing to give up your salt shaker just yet, here’s a guide as to what to use and when:

Table Salt

Highly refined, super-processed and heated above 1,000 degrees, which alters its chemical structure. This cheap salt can contain aluminum, anti-caking agents, and even dextrose (sugar). Whereas iodide has been added for the last century to combat goiter, you likely don’t need to worry about not getting enough in your diet if you eat eggs, sea vegetables, or seafood. Table salt is acid-forming to the body and has a harsh, metallic aftertaste when used in cooking. I never use table salt.

Kosher Salt

Has a more flat, flake-like shape preferred by chefs since it is easier to grab with your fingers. Brands like Diamond Crystal contain no additives or iodide, but are still devoid of minerals. It has a milder flavor than table salt. Since kosher salt is less expensive than sea salt, I use it for marinades, pasta water, and other preparations I will later discard.

Sea Salt

Usually minimally refined and may contain small amounts of natural iodide. The color of sea salts represents the different minerals they contain. Unrefined sea salt in moderation can be alkalizing to the body. I use finely ground grey Celtic sea salt in just about everything, but I will occasionally finish a dish with the sweet and flakey Maldon. If you are not convinced that sea salt is better from a nutritional perspective, choose it over table salt for its cleaner, milder flavor.

If you are allergic to shellfish, it’s possible you will be sensitive to sea salt too.

Fleur de Sel

Very pricey, this “flower of the salt” is hand-harvested from the top of salt pans in France. I will occasionally use fleur de sel to sprinkle on a finished dish to give a slightly salty crunch.

I am certainly not promoting a “high sea salt” diet but rather questioning the universal recommendation to limit salt when there are certainly other factors at play. The bottom line is to listen to your own body’s signals and focus on a balanced diet rich in a wide variety of whole foods.

Please share your experiences. Have you adjusted the salt in your diet? Have you switched from table salt to sea salt? What questions or concerns do you have regarding salt intake?

Sources: “The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen” by Peter Berley; “Salt: We Misjudged You” by Gary Taubes; “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford; “The Journal of the American Medical Association”

Pamela Salzman is a certified holistic health counselor.  She shares her approach to nutrition through her natural foods cooking classes and website, a resource for her healthful, family-friendly recipes and nutrition tips.  She was recently profiled in Elle Magazine. Please visit Pamela’s websiteFacebook page or Twitter, for more information and great resources.

*Photo by SoraZG.