Good salt, bad salt

Salt has a long-standing reputation as a food additive that should be avoided. It’s “white death”. It leads to high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease… or so we’ve been told.

This thinking about salt was based primarily on tests on lab rats in the 1970s. The rats showed increased blood pressure, leading the researchers to claim they had unequivocal evidence that salt causes hypertension. However, the research was flawed: the lab rats were fed the equivalent of 120 times the daily salt consumption of the average human.

The anti-salt rhetoric, says Hillel Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is “based on wild extrapolations.” The fact is there is no strong evidence that reducing salt reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.

In fact, there is evidence that certain salts can be beneficial to health. It’s important to understand the distinction between “good” and “bad” salt. Refined white table salt has few redeeming qualities. It’s pure sodium chloride. It has been refined and stripped of its nutrients and minerals. On the other hand, unrefined sea salt contains 84 trace minerals including electrolytes like magnesium, calcium and potassium.

As most runners and athletes can tell you, electrolytes are important for the body’s hydration. White table salt dehydrates the body while unrefined sea salt hydrates and reduces fluid retention. Sea salt can also help to prevent muscle cramps and improve digestion.

Look for unrefined salts such as Celtic or Himalayan sea salt. You’ll know if the salt is unrefined if it’s pink, grey or black in colour.

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