Refined table salt is what you're eating. Not to be confused with natural sea salt, spring salt, and other unrefined salts. Table salt is the result of unnatural manufacturing processes and added chemicals. And those same grains are also sitting in your kitchen right now. Costing less than a dollar for two pounds at your local grocery store, too good of a deal to pass up.
So, let’s take a second and learn about why refined table salt is never the healthiest option.
Most natural salt is produced by evaporating ocean water or mining underground deposits and simply scooping up the crystalized salt grains – that’s it. Refined table salt uses the same sources but puts it through many different stages of processing.
Prior to the late 1800s, nearly all food products came from farms and artisan producers. Salt naturally contains minerals and other compounds, so the salt consumers used to eat back in the day wasn’t white, it was more of a speckled grey, multicolored.
Later during the industrial revolution a process was invented that produced those white salt grains that we’re so familiar with. Basically, you take salt water and run it through a number of stages, including steam and vacuum chambers, and out comes those salt grains.
Around this same time, consumers started preferring anything that was produced from a machine. It meant reliability and high quality to them, and was a bit of a showpiece for wealth and class. As such, these pure white grains became the hallmark of ‘good quality salt’ when in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth.
To meet this new demand for white salt, salt companies embraced refined table salt. An unnatural manufacturing process that produces those white uniform salt grains we're so familiar with today. And an unnatural form of salt that our bodies weren't made to digest.
Here are some of the stages table salt goes through:
Since the beginning of life, salt has been a necessary component of our human (and animal) diet. Without salt, we wouldn’t be able to live. Since all natural salt contains trace minerals, which is what we’ve been eating for thousands of years, our bodies have grown accustomed. So much so that the body needs them to help digest the sodium chloride (AKA salt). And to put things into perspective, spring salt has 80+ trace natural minerals while table salt has zero.
The major problem that table salt has with these natural minerals is that it slightly reduces the purity of the salt and reduces how white the grains are.
So they’re entirely removed.
Once the mineral and other natural content is removed, the table salt still isn’t a perfect white. To remove any unwanted coloring, manufacturers use a few different chemical processes.
Some of which are:
Chlorine: Table salt goes through a chlorine bath to bleach any leftover impurities.
Titanium Dioxide: Known to be nontoxic, this pigment is sometimes added to table salt to cover impurities. It’s generally regarded by the FDA to be safe, but some studies have shown titanium dioxide to be a Group 2B Carcinogen. In America, salt can contain up to 1% of titanium dioxide.
After the removal of all moisture during the table salt’s processing, you’re left with pure sodium chloride. Salt is naturally ‘thirsty’ so without this moisture the table salt tries to soak up water from the air.
This causes the tiny salt grains to clump together and harden, which stops the salt from being poured or shaken… if you’ve ever had salt sitting around in your kitchen for a while, you’ve probably experienced this to some degree.
Manufacturers prevent this clumping by using a few different chemical additives. Also known as ‘anti-caking agents.’
These anticaking agents are considered to be the worst part of table salt. There are some natural agents, such as calcium carbonate, but unfortunately are ‘too expensive’ for big salt companies. They choose to go the cheaper chemical route.
Some of these anticaking agents include:
Ferrocyanide: This is a derivative of cyanide… yup, a known poison. Some manufacturers disguise this ingredient as ‘Yellow Prussiate of Soda.’ Fortunately, the FDA finds ferrocyanide at these low levels not to be a major concern.
Aluminosilicate: This is a derivative of aluminum. FDA approved at these levels to be generally recognized as safe. Although studies have shown that aluminum plays a role in brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, and other health issues.
Fortified Iodine: Iodized salt began in the early 1900s as parts of America suffered from goiters caused by low nutrient foods. The government saw adding iodine to salt as a simple solution to the problem. A hundred years later goiters is no longer an issue as we eat plenty of iodine from other foods in our diet. Overconsumption of table salt could lead to iodine toxicity, but fortunately only 70% of table salt is iodized these days.
Dextrose: This is sugar. Not exactly a dangerous chemical, but it's added as a stabilizing agent for iodine. Another additive that makes table salt not just salt.
And to add injury to insult, some studies have shown that anticaking agents also negatively impact the healthy, nutritional content of food. One such study showed it actually decreased the amount of vitamin C in food. So not only are we eating unhealthy salt with chemical additives, it's also taking away from nutrition.
In America, up to 2% of table salt can be chemical additives. Whether that's a lot or a little, that's for you to decide.
Fun (or not so fun) fact! Anticaking chemicals aren’t just in salt. They’re in most processed, fine grained products such as flour and sugar. Next time you buy either of those be sure to check the ingredients label.
The final form of table salt is pure, concentrated NaCl. These tiny grains make the salt extremely dense which leads overuse. A teaspoon of table salt contains more sodium than a teaspoon of spring salt or other naturally unrefined salt. Plus, the lack of minerals means the body might be absorbing more sodium than its natural counterparts.
In fact, the recommended sodium intake is roughly 2,300mg per day which is the equivalent to just one teaspoon of table salt. Think about the last time you’ve used table salt and you might realize how much than one teaspoon you’ve been using.
The tough part about processed table salt is that most of how we eat it is outside of our control. 70% comes from processed foods and restaurants, 10% from added while cooking or eating, and 15% occurs naturally. Your best bet to reduce how much table salt you consume would be to skip out on restaurants and do most of your cooking yourself.
Because it’s so difficult to avoid table salt, most Americans eat on average 3,400mg per day of sodium. Excessive consumption of sodium can lead to health issues such as kidney disease, heart failure, and headaches.
The food industry these days is plagued with all sorts of processed products, and refined table salt is no exception. Consumers are easily swayed by its low price, but you should consider spending a few extra dollars for unrefined, natural salt. Not only will it bring out the flavors in your food better, but it’ll also take less of a toll on your body.
End of the day, some will argue that we eat such small amounts of salt that it won’t impact our bodies. But every year more research comes out saying certain additives are more harmful than originally thought.
Maybe in fifty years we'll have a better idea of how table salt impacts health, so until then we'd prefer to know what's going into our bodies.
Time to ditch the processed table salt and replace with naturally unrefined salt.
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