Submitted by: Christy Berrier MS, RD, CD, clinical dietitian at Franciscan St. Anthony Health Michigan City
Often you will see me up on the cardiac floor or in cardiac rehab educating patients on heart healthy diets. There is not a week that goes by that I don't get asked the question: "Which salt is better?"
Salt is mainly two elements - about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It's the chloride that provides that familiar salty taste and the sodium that may negatively affect your health if you consume too much. Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small quantities (few hundred milligrams (mg) per day) with the estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans ages 2 years and older approximately 3,400 mg per day. The current recommendation is to reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg if you are 51 and older, are African American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
Iodized salt (table salt) is mined from underground salt deposits. It is more heavily processed to eliminate minerals and usually contains calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping, and iodine. It possesses very fine crystals that dissolve quickly, making it the preferred salt of bakers. Because of its fine texture more can fit into a teaspoon. The amount of sodium per ¼ teaspoon in iodized salt is about 590 milligrams of sodium.
Sea salt, obtained from evaporated seawater, receives little or no processing. It contains various minerals from the water source. These different minerals found in sea salt change the flavor and color of the salt slightly. It is important to note, because these salts are usually more expensive, that when cooked or dissolved the unique flavor is lost. The amount of sodium per ¼ teaspoon in sea salt is between 400 and 590 milligrams of sodium.
Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process. It contains no preservatives and can be derived from either seawater or underground sources. It is more useful in preserving, because its large crystals draw moisture out of meats and other foods more effectively than other salts. However, be careful using them in recipes that don’t have enough fluids in them to dissolve this larger grain. The amount of sodium per ¼ teaspoon in kosher salt varies between 500 and 590 milligrams of sodium.
Keep in mind that the amount of sodium per teaspoon maybe a little smaller for sea and kosher salts simply because the larger grain means you can't get as much salt by weight into the same teaspoon as you can table salt. And with 400 to 590 mg of sodium per ¼ teaspoon - just a little of any of them can be a lot of sodium. So, with that said, the true value in different salts is not the sodium content but geared towards the cook's purpose.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing consumption of sodium in the various ways:
- Read the Nutrition Facts label for information on the sodium content of foods and purchase foods that are low in sodium.
- Consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium.
- Eat more home-prepared foods where you have more control over sodium, and use little or no salt or salt-containing seasonings when cooking or eating foods.
- When eating at restaurants, ask that salt not be added to your food or order lower sodium options, if available.
To learn more about salt and tips on how to stick to a "low-salt diet," visit our Online Health Library.