Salt is everywhere—and for good reason. This mineral is essential for our bodies to function properly. It also makes food delicious.
Still, there is a lot of misinformation about salt out there, mostly the result of dubious scientific studies from the past. So here are 5 little-known truths about salt.
Salt Doesn’t Necessarily Cause Heart Disease
In the ‘80s, a large study claimed that people who ate more salt saw an increase in blood pressure. That was only sort of true. The increase was only about 2mmHg, and there was no connection to increased heart rate or risk of stroke.
Unfortunately, these caveats didn’t stop Time Magazine from publishing a cover story titled “A New Villain” all about the evils of salt. Ever since, salt has been an easy scapegoat, and health policy often points to salt as an unhealthy substance that ought to be discouraged.
But if you look at the big picture, you’ll find that the countries with the highest levels of salt consumption don’t necessarily have high rates of heart disease.
What conclusions can we draw from all of this? Salt consumption is only one of many components that determine a person’s risk of stroke or heart disease. Factors like lifestyle, diet, exercise, and genetics all play a role. The issue is complex and cannot be boiled down to one, lone mineral.
Salt Contains Iodine
Around the world, countries add iodine to their table salt. Why? Because iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. The thyroid is the little organ in your neck that controls your metabolism. It’s small but important. People with an iodine deficiency can develop goiter, a condition in which the thyroid swells up to the size of a softball. Regular consumption of table salt that includes iodine could help prevent such an unseemly condition.
Most Salt Isn’t Used For Food
There is salt in almost all the food we consume, but most of the salt produced each year will never end up in your body. About 43% of our country’s yearly salt supply goes toward de-icing roads in the wintertime. By contrast, only 3% of produced salt goes into our food. Salt is also an ingredient in everyday products like hand soap and detergent.
Your Nerves Need Salt
Your nerves allow you to interact with the outside world. They also happen to be the building blocks of your brain. Without nerves, you wouldn’t be alive! But in order for nerves to send messages, they need salt. This is why athletes who sweat-out electrolytes (including salt) need to replenish the lost minerals. If these athletes only drank water, they would end up with water poisoning, a condition in which the body loses too much salt, causing nerves to malfunction. Gatorade and other sports drinks provide the body with the water and the salt we lose when we sweat.
There’s No “Healthier” Salt
Some people will only eat sea salt, claiming that it is healthier than other salts. Sorry to break it to you, but salt is salt. Molecularly, salt is sodium chloride (NaCl) and no matter how you obtain this mineral, it will remain NaCl. Sea salt is extracted by evaporating seawater and collecting the crystallized salt residue. Other types of salt come from underground mines. But they all boil down to the same two elements. There is no real difference.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember about salt is that too much or too little can ruin a perfectly cooked dish.