The bittersweet story of salt – Part I

We love salt because it can enhance the flavours and tastes of food. But, are we taking our love for it a bit too far?

An essential component in our daily lives, salt is known to date back to 6050 B.C. and have more than 14,000 uses.Salt is closely intertwined with history and several folk tales exist across cultures, extolling the virtues of salt. Across the world, salt has been used widely in food preservation and seasoning as well as for industrial purposes. Salt was even traded as a form of currency and enjoyed great economic significance. In fact, the english word ‘salary’ is rooted in the Latin ‘sal’ meaning salt because it was used as a means of remuneration in ancient times.

Flickr CC Larry Hoffman

What exactly is salt?

A compound comprised of two elements, Sodium (40%) and Chlorine (60%), salt plays a crucial role in the health of human, animal and plant life. As an essential electrolyte, it is considered a necessary diet element for our body to function properly and healthily. To ensure effective nerve transmission and properly executed digestion process, the body relies on salt. Many foods naturally contain sodium but most of our sodium intake comes from salt. While seawater is the largest source of salt, it is also processed from salt mines and mineral-rich spring water.

Why do we love salt so much?

Salt is like saturated fat. We know it’s bad for us yet we can’t seem to have enough of it. This is largely due to the ability of salt to suppress the bitterness of foods like coffee and heighten the sweetness of certain foods like pineapples and apples (also, salted caramel!). So, salt is the magic ingredient that can make almost all food taste better.

Types of salt

Iodized table salt: Iodine began to be added to the most common type of edible salt in the 1920s to battle iodine deficiency and regulate thyroid funtioning. Table salt is highly refined and conatins almost pure sodium chloride. To ready it for consumption, edible salt is cleaned of all impurities and trace minerals.However, this makes it susceptible to clump together. To avoid this, anti-caking agents are added during manufacturing.

Rock salt: Also called sendha namak, the large, coarse crystals are considered a healthier alternative to table salt because they are natural. Since it undergoes no chemical processing, rock salt lacks additives like iodine and anti-caking agents and is milder in taste than its overprocessed cousin. Its mineral content helps regulate muscle function and neutralises acidity without any of the negative effects of refined salt.

Flickr CC julajp

Himalayan Pink Salt: This salt is harvested from the Khewra Salt Mine of Punjab. The distance between the foothills of the salt mine and the Himalayas is only 300 km, hence the name. While it does occur in other colours also, the common pink colour of the salt arises due to its iron oxide content. This salt is mainly used for cooking and in bath salts. The salt has trace minerals that help balance the body’s electrolytes and strengthen bones.

Himalayan Black Salt: Also called kala namak, the pinkish grey colour of this salt is belied by its name. Traditionally, the salt was processed using heat and charcoal, rendering it rich in sulphur compounds and giving it a distinct eggy taste. While it is used to enhance the flavours of chaats, fruits, and chutneys, its high sodium chloride content (98%) means it is better consumed in limited quantities.

How much salt do we really need?

For optimal health, an adequate intake of salt is required in the human diet. One’s ideal salt intake can be determined by how much sodium the body is releasing. For example, a person that regularly engages in exercise or physical activities that lead to the release of sodium by way of sweat should naturally have a higher salt intake than a person with a sedentary lifestyle. However, it is generally agreed upon that an average healthy adult should consume between 1500 to 2300 milligrams of sodium a day. This is roughly equal to about one teaspoon of table salt. Most Indians consume between 10 and 12 grams of sodium a day, added to food at the table and at the time of cooking.


What can too much salt do to you?

While it continues to remain an essential ingredient for the body’s optimal functioning, salt is rapidly becoming the chief suspect in many long-term health problems.

Four of the most common salt related conditions are:

High Blood Pressure: When your salt intake is high, you feel thirsty. This happens because the more water you drink, the better chances your body has to get rid of the excess salt through urination. However, when you are unable to consume enough water, intracellular water is drawn out of your body’s cells leading to an increase in the volume of blood, the chief cause of hypertension or high blood pressure.

Kidney Problems: Increased sodium intake puts extra pressure on the kidneys and this strain can lead to several kidney related diseases.

Muscle Problems: Salt aids the nervous system and the muscles in functioning properly. However, excess salt can create an electrolyte imbalance resulting in muscle tension and cramps.

Osteoporosis: Most of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. A high salt intake leads to the calcium being extracted from your bones and then excreted through urination. This results in Osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones brittle and prone to breaking because of their thinning.




The Natural Beauty and Wellness Hub is our journey into discovering ideas for personal care that are natural, free of harsh chemicals and over-processing, are non-polluting and fair to everyone involved in the process, just as much as it is an inquiry into the idea of beauty and wellness itself. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative. 

Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more


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Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more

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  • Iodized is good

    Recommending non-iodized salt is a huge risk to public health. World over, iodization has improved the lives of children and adults. While excess salt consumption of any kind is a health concern, it doesn’t translate into excess iodine and its adverse effects. So please promote iodized salt for people of all age groups. It’s actually illegal to sell non-iodized salt in India.