Earlier this month, New York City announced an “initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products,” according to The New York Times.
Considering a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that even a half teaspoon reduction in daily salt intake can have far-reaching benefits for individuals, the city's plan seems like a great idea.
But—as is often the case—it appears that harmful processed foods and ingredients are being grouped with their less-refined cousins, giving the beneficial versions a bad name.
In the media coverage of the salt-reduction initiative, I don’t recall one instance where the difference between processed salt and unrefined salt was discussed. Our bodies need salt (sodium), but, like fat, some versions are healthy and others harmful.
Unrefined sea salt—available in many supermarkets—contains over 80 trace elements (minerals and micronutrients that our bodies need in extremely small quantities) and is necessary for several reasons, including proper cell functioning, protein digestion and muscle contraction. This is the healthy salt, and just a small amount can brighten foods’ flavors.
The salt that New York City wants to limit, though, is a completely different animal. Commercial table salts and the salts used in processed foods have been stripped of their minerals. They are heated to high temperatures, cleaned and bleached with chemicals and administered anti-caking agents.
In simple terms, this processing changes the structure of the salt, not allowing our bodies to properly digest it. The salt builds up in our bodies and we get sick.
More on this tomorrow.