Flickr photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
Registered dietitian Bethany Thayer is in our Nutrition Kitchen, answering all your healthy food questions ...
Q: I often hear people say they use Kosher salt or sea salt in cooking and to season food because it's healthier than table salt. Is this really true?
Great question, I hear that a lot too! By the way, I also struggle with the salt issue in my home. My husband likes to cook, but we disagree over how much salt to use. I prefer little to no salt -- he likes it very salty. Guess who struggles with his blood pressure!
But back to your question ... here's what you need to know about salt: We all need some for proper body function, but most of us get too much. The typical American diet contains between 3,000 and 6,000 milligrams of sodium daily, way more than the recommendation of 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams -- max! -- per day.
Most of it comes from processed foods (chips, soups, prepared meals), not the stuff you dump into the saute pan when you're cooking dinner. For example, one large cucumber has about six milligrams of sodium, but once it's pickled, it increases to 1,181 milligrams. And three ounces of roasted pork is 39 milligrams, but once it's cured into ham, it becomes 1,128 milligrams.
But is there really a healthier salt? Let's break it down ...
Your regular, everyday salt. It's iodized to help prevent stunted growth, mental retardation, and goiter. That's why pregnant women are often advised to avoid other kinds of salt that don't contain iodine -- table salt is good for the baby's development. Iodized table salt is pretty standardized at about 590 milligrams of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon.
Kosher salt is generally a larger grain, and most brands don't contain iodine. In recipes, salt is used to strengthen egg whites when whipped and helps control the fermentation of yeast. So be careful about using Kosher salt in recipes that don't have enough fluids in them to dissolve this larger grain, else it may affect the outcome of the recipe. The amount of sodium per teaspoon may be smaller simply because the larger grain means you can't get as much salt by weight into the same teaspoon as you can with table salt. Kosher salts will vary between 500 and 590 milligrams of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon.
Sea salt, obtained by the evaporation of sea water, varies widely depending on the source and is generally more expensive than table salt. The grain may or may not be bigger than table salt. And there may be a number of other minerals included with the sea salt, in addition to sodium and chloride, which lower the amount of sodium per teaspoon. The different minerals also impart different flavors, and some people claim they end up using less salt when they flavor with sea salt. Sea salts seem to vary between 400 and 590 milligrams of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon.
The bottom line:
Kosher salt or sea salt may have just as much sodium as table salt by weight, so don't necessarily think you can use more or that it's better for you. Read the nutrition label and compare.
A better way to cut the sodium is to minimize or eliminate any salt when cooking or at the table, experiment with herbs and spices for flavor, and limit your processed food intake.
In my house, I've convinced my husband that he can wait to add salt at the table, allowing each of us to flavor per our preference. He's also started an herb garden, so it's easy for him to pick some fresh chives, thyme, or basil to add really great flavor to food without the salt.
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