17. CHOOSING THE RIGHT SALT
Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl) and is used to add flavour to food and also useful in preservation of food. Our body needs salt for optimal functioning. Salt is involved in regulating the fluid balance of the body and the sodium ion itself is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
NOT ALL salt is bad for you, it’s merely a case of understanding the difference and the quantity consumed
Too little salt in the diet (which is not common) can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, or electrolyte disturbance, whereas excessive consumption may increase blood pressure and increase risk for heart disease and cancer, specifically stomach cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) found that salt and salt-preserved foods probably increase the chance of developing stomach cancer because high salt intake can lead to inflammation of the stomach and damage the stomach lining. When the stomach is inflamed, it is more vulnerable to the effects of the Bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Helicobacter pylori is a bacterial pathogen that selectively colonizes the gastric epithelium or stomach lining. It is estimated that it colonizes approximately 50% of the world's population. Infection with H. pylori causes chronic inflammation and significantly increases the risk of developing duodenal and gastric ulcer disease and gastric cancer1.
Strategies towards health and recovery
- Limit the intake of salt
- Choose salt that has higher nutrient values.
Suggestions on limiting salt intake
- Careful selection of food. Avoid high sodium food like salted fish and almost all processed canned or packaged food. For healthier snacks choose fruit or vegetables.
- Going easy on soy sauce and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt.
- Consciously cooking with less salt, as your taste buds adapt to lower salt levels in a matter of weeks.
- Don’t add salt while you’re cooking and instead simply sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on your finished dish before serving. This avoids much of the salt being absorbed by the food and thus may result in more salt to make it taste good.
- Flavor your food with herbs and spices. Lemon or lime juices are excellent flavor enhancers.
- Don’t put any salt shaker (and sauces) on the dining table.
- Avoid processed foods as it contains a lot of hidden salt.
- Avoid eating out - restaurant and hawker stalls tend to use too much salt and sauces (soy or oyster sauces)
- Use unrefined salt, as they have slightly less sodium content and more mineral content.
Do you know ?
- about 75% of the salt you need is already in everyday foods such as bread, cereal and ready meals?
- many whole foods such wholegrains, meat, vegetables such as celery, carrot, seaweed and broccoli and dairy products – naturally contain small amounts of sodium?
- The Malaysian Dietary Guideline recommends that an individual should not eat more than 1 teaspoon 2000 mg of sodium (or 5 grams of salt) per day—5 gram of salt.. The mean sodium intake for adult Malaysian was about 2575 mg/day and Orang Asli has the lowest intake at 945 mg/day and Malaysian Chinese had the highest intake at 2916 mg/ day
Source: Malaysian Dietary Guideline Key Message 9: Choose and prepare foods with less salt and sauces (it takes some time to load)
Choose salt that has a high nutrient value
First of all, the source of ALL SALT is ultimately SEA SALT in some form. Refinement process stripped the valuable minerals and leaving behind mostly sodium chloride. Lumping all salt together as a ‘bad substance’ is a terrible mistake. There are two forms of salt available in the market place: refined and unrefined. In the following sections we will look at the differences between refined and unrefined salt and their characteristics.
Refined salt (Table salt)
This salt is normally used in most homes and restaurants. Food grade table salt is highly refined and contain almost pure sodium chloride of 97% or higher (some are proud to proclaim an almost pure sodium chloride content of 99.9%).
Beneficial minerals and trace elements found in natural/ unrefined salt are removed during the refining process and many toxic chemicals such as aluminum, ferrocyanidin (anti-caking agent) and bleach are added to the salt in order to get it to its final product; the pure white appearance that we are accustomed to. Note: Anti-caking agents are used to prevent the absorption of water for ease in pouring.
One of the most important minerals missing from refined table salt is magnesium. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymes in our bodies, and is deficient in most people's diets. Magnesium has a balancing effect on calcium. It also has a relaxing influence on the heart, which is one reason a shot of magnesium is often the first “drug” given during a heart attack. The blood pressure-raising effect of table salt due to its high content of sodium needs the presence of enough magnesium to balance it.
Although you may take an active stance to avoid or control refined salt, you’d be surprised to know that the majority of irresistible treats contains salt. In fact the first few ingredients tend to be salt/sodium; the refined kind. Restaurants, bakeries and manufactured food alike all contain refined salt which makes it increasingly hard to escape the clutch of refined salt.
Contents of refined salt
Anti-caking agent such as Aluminum Silicate, Ammonium Citrate, Dextrose
Sometimes iodide are added
Sodium chloride makes up >99% of refined salt.
Refined salt is sodium chloride + zero (0) trace minerals + chemicals (bleaching and anticaking agents)
Unrefined salt has not been put through a harsh chemical process. It contains the natural minerals that were originally part of the product and its mineral content gives it a distinct color - for example, Himalayan salt is harvested in Pakistan and often contains trace amounts of iron oxide, which gives it a pink color. The amount of minerals and trace elements like potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc depends on where it is harvested and how it is processed, some natural sea salt may contain up to 92 trace minerals, and only 84% sodium chloride.
Among the benefits of unrefined salt are:
- regulating fluid and balances the electrolytes and pH
- regulates blood pressure
- facilitate electrical signaling in the cells
- magnesium and sodium stabilise/regulate heart beat
- trace minerals regulates the endocrine system
- supports muscular function and regulate the proper functioning of the nervous system
Unrefined salt is sodium chloride + trace minerals + zero (0)chemicals
Determining the quality of unrefined salt
The quality of the unrefined salt depends on the amount of minerals it contains. The way to determine the quality of the unrefined salt is through:
- Its sodium Chloride content. Good ones are in the range of 84—90%, with the lower % content being better.)
- Look at the listed mineral contents (other that sodium chloride) - the more minerals listed the better.
You can have a wide range of brands and prices on unrefined salt — depending on where they are mined and most importantly their mineral content. Commonly found unrefined salt in the Malaysian market are Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, French and Portuguese sea salt.
Does unrefined salt has contaminant?
Mother Nature created a good package for us in any of the unrefined salts. While we need to avoid salts that contain additives or processing by-products, we don’t need to worry about the salts from nature.