Salt of the Earth
Good solid reliable down to earth salt, it’s biblical. Unique in that it's both a flavour and a substance we find in nature that contains that flavour. More often than not when we think of salt we don’t think of the earth but of the sea.
Salt reminds us that we are part of the natural world, we cannot live without salt, it is a key component of our make up, in fact we are little more than a salty soup.
After taking a dive into sugar and sweetness how could I not take a look at our other favourite flavour, salt.
“Salt is born of the purest parents, the sun and the sea”
History of Salt
We have a long history of using salt, especially because it is such an effective way to preserve food. We learnt how to harvest it and we traded salt as a vital ingredient. It was greatly valued and so we used it sparingly.
Natural salts came from the sea or from salt mines that where once a sea. Sea salt is made by carefully evaporating sea water until only the salt it left. Himalayan or Pink salt is harvested from ancient primal sea deposits.
Both these kinds of salt are rich in not only sodium (the key component of all salt) but also many other important minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. They also contain trace minerals that are only needed in very small amounts but are vital for our bodies to function optimally.
Unfortunately like all good things it changed by being processed. Processing salt into table salt requires removing the minerals and trace minerals and only leaving behind the sodium. It gets heated and iodine is often added to turn it into iodised salt. Sea salt naturally contains some iodine.
Sodium is an important mineral for the body but it only works well when it is in balance with potassium. These two minerals together help maintain the fluid balance in the body. Water follows sodium so when you have too much sodium there is likely to be water retention.
This is why it is recommended to avoid salt when you have high blood pressure. With more water in the body it puts more pressure on the blood vessels and can be a contributing factor in high blood pressure.
Sodium and potassium are two important electrolytes that help to prevent dehydration and should be used when dehydration has occurred. Coconut water is often seen as a good option for ensuring good electrolyte balance because it is rich in potassium.
Potassium helps to keep sodium in balance and naturally we would have had this balance in the foods we ate. Nature has very cleverly given us many foods that are rich in potassium such as white beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternuts, tomatoes, Swiss chard, spinach, beetroot, parsnips, broccoli, avocados, nuts and bananas.
Some vegetables contain sodium such as celery, carrots, beetroot, Swiss card and spinach. If you see some crossover with potassium rich foods then that is exactly how nature has kept these two minerals in balance.
But most fruits and vegetables are low in sodium probably because we can get sodium from natural salt. We only need a very small amount of salt to stay healthy.
Unfortunately the food industry has added a lot more salt into our foods than we should naturally eat. It does this for the same reason that is adds sugar. Salt tastes good and these are the two flavours we crave the most.
But all this extra sodium has caused the sodium/potassium balance to get out of whack. Processed foods that contain high levels of sodium should be eaten in moderation. They include processed meats, bacon, salty snacks (salted nuts, crisps, crackers) bread, cheese, breakfast cereals, olives, soya sauce, pickles, stock cubes/powders and marmite.
While table salt and processed foods are best avoided natural salt is an important part of a healthy diet because of the fact it contains minerals and trace minerals. Very low levels of sodium can affect the health of the heart. It also has an impact on cholesterol, not the good kind.
Natural salt is useful for preventing muscle cramps which often occurs when we have lost some important minerals. This can be as a result of dehydration caused by intense sports or very hot weather any time we have sweated a lot or after a gastric bug, where we have lost natural body fluids.
Salt has traditionally been used for cleansing, as a salt purge to evacuate the bowels and as a salt scrub to slough off dead skin.
Using natural salt whether it be from the sea or harvested from salt deposits from ancient seas will provide the salty flavour we so desire and help to keep us healthy.
We should not consume more than 2,300mg of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon) and should be aiming for lower levels especially if most of our salt intake is from processed foods.
Sofritto a key component of Italian food makes use of the vegetables that have a naturally salty flavour. By gentling sautéing onion, celery, carrot and parsley you add a lot of flavour to a dish without having to add any salt.
Personally I like to mix it up and have sea salt and Himalaya salt. My favourite is a combination of sea salt with ground seaweed for extra flavour. Because after all food should always tastes delicious and adding a little salt can go a long way in helping you to love your vegetables.