COMMENTARY

Salt From the Sea or the Earth: Is One Better?

Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD

Disclosures

August 25, 2011

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters. The topic: salt of the earth or salt of the sea? Here's why it matters: I see TV ads from fast-food joints that intimate that french fries seasoned with sea salt are somehow safer and healthier. That has me worried.

An American Heart Association (AHA) survey of 1000 adults age 18 and older confirms my concerns: Sixty-one percent of those surveyed mistakenly believe that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to regular table salt.[1]

So what's the difference?

  • Both contain about 40% sodium.

  • There may be a little difference in taste.

  • The texture is different; sea salt is more granular while table salt has additives that keep it flowing.

  • There are definitely differences in processing. Sea salt is made from evaporating seawater, so trace minerals, including a little iodine, are left behind. Table salt comes from underground salt deposits. It is processed to remove trace minerals and often iodine is added.

Because sea salt comes from ocean water you might call it more natural, but it's not necessarily healthier.

The AHA clearly states that high-sodium diets raise blood pressure and increase risk for heart attack and stroke. The AHA recommends daily sodium intake of no more than 1500 mg. Sea salt sodium adds up exactly like table salt sodium.

The survey confirmed another misconception: When asked the primary source of sodium in the diet, 46% of those surveyed thought it was table salt. However, up to 75% of the salt in our diets comes from processed food like soups, snacks, condiments, and canned foods.

So, encourage patients to read labels carefully and look for key words like "salt," "sodium," or "soda," or the chemical symbol NA. Also, tell your patients not to be fooled; those sea-salted french fries may taste good but they still count just as much in your total sodium intake and may not be good for you.

For Medicine Matters, I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.

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