It’s Friday, so its time for another food fight! Every Friday we look at an ingredient, a decision or a process within the real foods sphere. It might be as simple as why you should choose sea salt over iodized salt. It might be more complex, such as what soaking is, how to soak and why you’d want to do it. Grass-fed vs grain-fed. Pastured vs cage-free eggs. What if I can’t afford the best, what’s the next best alternative? All of those decisions that are out in the real food world that are enough to make your head swirl. We’ll take it one bite at a time. Information is always easier to digest when it’s in small pieces.
We’ll start with the easier and move to the complex. As always, we will do so in a good, better, best format, with an eye on the budget. Some weeks, it will be a blog post, other weeks a video.
This week, we’ll look at refined vs unrefined salt.
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The main issue with refined versus unrefined salts is their trace mineral content. There are currently 92 known trace minerals and a couple of dozen more are hypothesized. When salts are refined, everything is stripped out save the sodium chloride. They are 99.5% or more pure sodium chloride at that point, it doesn’t matter if they began as sea water or as a mined rock. At a quick glance, you can tell if a salt has been refined by its color. Minerals are colored, so unrefined salts have a tint to them- grey, pink, some even have red or black. Pure white salt is refined. This can be confusing because some companies sell a refined sea salt. Chemically, it’s no different than any other refined salt on the shelf, but the word ‘sea’ in the title means they can charge more for it while fooling a bunch of people. Not nice. 🙁
Refined salts can also have anti-clumping agents added such as calcium silicate. I saw some that contained dextrose, too. Dextrose is a sugar and is used to stabilize the added iodine according to the Morton’s FAQ.
Let’s look at the minerals in unrefined salt. There are multiple types of unrefined salts on the market, but we’ll focus on the three that are easiest to find: Redmond’s Real Salt, Himalayan and Celtic Sea Salt. I purchase all three through Green PolkaDot Box.
Redmond’s Real Salt ($2.78 for 9 ounces at Green PolkaDot Box, is less for the one-pound pouches but they’re out of stock) is a multi-colored salt mined in Utah. It comes from an ancient sea bed. Of the three we’re discussing here, it is the least expensive option. Real Salt has a mineral analysis on their website, click here to see it. It contains 59 trace minerals including sodium and chloride.
Himalayan salt ($9.97 a pound at Green PolkaDot Box) is a pinkish salt mined in Pakistan from an ancient sea bed. A mineral analysis published in 2002 states that it contains 84 trace minerals. The anaylsis also showed it didn’t contain some of the things you don’t want, like mercury.
Celtic Sea Salt ($3.72 per pound at Green PolkaDot Box) is a gray, moist salt made from sea water in France. The water is evaporated out of shallow ponds in order to claim the salt. It contains over 80 trace minerals, but I couldn’t find any documentation supporting that statement. I did find one document with an analysis of a few minerals. I also found a document on their site that stated their salt was 23.1% trace minerals (and stated that Real Salt contained 1.68% trace minerals).
Why Trace Minerals Matter
Trace minerals are elements. They are responsible for thousands of processes in your body. They are critical to your health.
Modern farming processes have focused on just three nutrients, sometimes referred to as NPK- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The other minerals are largely ignored in conventional farming. In fact, we know that the soils are slowly seeing these minerals decrease while farming concentrates on applying large amounts of NPK.
Where are these trace minerals going? One hypothesis is that they’re being washed into the ocean as unhealthy soils can’t hang on to their nutrients. Of course, that statement is controversial as some scientists say there is absolutely no evidence that the soil has changed. One hypothesis is that the modified seeds don’t pull as much nutrition from the soil. But either way, we do know we aren’t getting what we used to in food.
How much of a decline are we talking about? Up to 70% from 1950 to 1999 in some cases of certain nutrients from certain foods as obtained from one study done by the University of Texas at Austin that only looked at five nutrients. The study did find that a few nutrients in certain vegetables did increase- that is likely due to plant breeding to pull out beneficial characteristics. You see, the flavor of a fruit or vegetable comes from its vitamin and mineral content. You can read more about the nutrient decline in soils and see many graphs at Traditional Foods.
The intake of trace minerals are a cornerstone of a traditional foods diet, as American diets are woefully inadequate for most minerals. Therefore, I will stick with unrefined salts to help make up for the loss of trace minerals in fruits and vegetables (and consume heirloom instead of commercial fruits and veggies). From both the trace mineral and the iodine standpoints, we choose to use unrefined sea salts exlusively in our home.
Salt can store indefinitely in a sealed container. I would encourage you to order in bulk and store it in order to save on the price per pound. The average American adult uses around 5 pounds of salt a year.
What I Use
I currently use a combination of all three, but that is changing. Next week, I’ll share more about my decision to no longer support one of these companies and why.
Please share with us. What do YOU do for your family? Which choice have you made?
photo- Sea salt by SoraZG on Flickr