Friday, January 11, 2013

Sea Salt Scam?

At the grocery store the other day I saw a label announcing that the product contained sea salt.  I wondered, is sea salt really better than regular table salt or is this just another marketing ploy along the lines of “all-natural” and “organic”?  This is another question that calls for some research.

My first stop was the Johns Hopkins health alerts.  Here is what they had to say on the subject.  “Is sea salt a healthier option than regular table salt?  Many people are confused about this. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 American adults conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) found that 61 percent felt -- incorrectly -- that sea salt offers a low-sodium alternative to table salt.

“In reality, the chemical makeup of these different salt options is the same. Both sea salt and table salt contain the same amount of sodium; the difference between the two is in the way they are processed.

“Sea salt is produced through evaporation of seawater, which leaves behind some trace minerals and elements depending on its water source that add flavor and texture to sea salt. Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and is highly processed compared with sea salt.

“The bottom line: The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, regardless of the source.”

I then checked with the Mayo Clinic and found the same answer with this added comment:  “Sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often marketed as a more natural and healthy alternative.”

There are, of course, other sites promoting sea salt as much better, listing 10 benefits of sea salt (without references, but implying that you should trust them because it's more natural) or stating:  “table salt is 99.9% sodium chloride as compared to sea salt, which contains only 98% of the compound. The remaining 2% is made of around 80 important minerals like iron, sulfur, and magnesium.”  Note that they don't say "trace material and elements" as stated above, but imply noticeable benefits.

Let's look into this.  Assuming the 2% claim is true, using a daily consumption of sodium of 2400mg (the maximum rather than the recommended) and considering that chemically 39.3% of salt is sodium by weight, I calculate an allowable consumption of 6100mg of salt.  The total weight of the 80 other important minerals about 122mg (2% of 6100), an average of less than 2mg each.  How much of that is iron or sulfur or contributes to the RDA of 420mg of magnesium is unknown, depending on where it comes from, but the term "trace elements" seems appropriate.  It's not enough to make much of a difference.

Given this information, should we believe Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic or should we believe the package of chips trying to pass itself off as an all-natural, healthier choice?

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