Salt has a colorful history. It went from indispensable life sustaining staple, to a health hazard but, now it’s back to being an essential part of good health by some.
Salt has a history that goes back beyond recorded history. The economy of ancient Celtic settlements like Halstatt and Salzburg, Austria dating to before c.800–450 BCE centered around salt mining. Ancient Saharan caravans from Timbuktu, African traded almost exclusively in salt so, it is easy to imagine that at one time salt was so precious that the salt casket in every household was kept under lock and key.
Salt was sacrificed to the Gods by the ancient Greeks and Roman soldiers where given a ration of salt called a “Salarium” as part of their pay – hence the term salary. Marco Polo recorded it’s use as currency on his travels through Tibet and Mongolia as late as the1300‘s when salt was still literally worth its weight in gold!
One of the oldest roads in Italy was called the “Via Salaria” “the salt road.” It was one of many ancient salt roads throughout Europe, vital to Ancient Roman salt transportation from coastal salt evaporation basins as far South as Sicily to the salt mines North of Italy.
Natural Sea Salt versus Common Table Salt
All of what is being called culinary salt or table salt, whether mined or evaporated was at one time briny sea water. It has a pretty consistent chemical make up of about, 85% sodium chloride and 15% trace minerals. That 15% is made up of over 80 trace elements consisting of Sulfur, magnesium, potassium, calcium, silicon, carbon, iron, aluminum, praseodymium, strontium, zinc, copper, erbium, tim, manganese, cerium, fluoride, rubidium, gallium, boron, titanium, bromine, iodine, etc all in a consistent descending order.
Traditionally, salt was used in its unprocessed form in cooking, seasoning foods, food preservation, digestive support and to preserve general health. Sea salt is an easily digested, life sustaining, essential multi-mineral nutrient – a true staple of life. Anyone who has ever tasted real sea salt will notice that it has an actual taste beyond it’s familiar saltiness. If it has been harvested from evaporation it even has a natural “oiliness” about it. Salt attracts moisture, so it naturally cakes into clumps. At one time every household had a wooden mortar and pestle just to break it up for household use.
What is being called “table salt” today is not the same as what once passed for it. Modern table salt has been chemically bleached and chemically stripped of it’s naturally occurring trace elements. Part of that process involves using anti-caking and flow agents, chemical drying agents and a 1200o F drying process that not only alters it’s natural chemical structure but also alters the sodium chloride content from 85% to about 98% by volume. The remaining 2% is comprised of anti-caking and flow agents that could include calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate and/or aluminum hydroxide but, could also include dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate. Something to think about next time you reach for the table salt. After processing common table salt has about 13% more sodium by volume.
Seems like a lot of trouble for something that was already good to go as it was! But, there is more to this story. As it turns out, those trace minerals in the original salt, that the Mayo clinic suggests are present in “insignificant amounts,” (if you consider 15% of the original volume insignificant) are then resold separately for more than the salt itself is worth intact. Yep! It’s about greed! Again!
After all the processing, like so many other modern food staples, the once mineral rich sea salt considered so valuable to life, now consists primarily of only sodium and chlorine (sodium chloride), anti-caking and flow agents plus supplemental iodine – a shadow of it’s former self – a mere by-product or a more lucrative industrial process.
Although iodine was already present in trace amounts in the salt before processing, it is added back into it to help prevent goiter from iodine deficiency. However, very little iodine is needed for the sake of thyroid health and with iodine being in other easily available foods, those who are more sensitive to it will experience problems like increased heart beat and other symptoms of an overactive thyroid. The multi-mineral nature of sea salt, like most whole foods may have a mitigating effect so that the effect of no one mineral predominates otherwise salt might have been more trouble than it was worth. As it turns out it is essential to life just as it is.
Salt Is Very Active
A main property of salt is that it draws moisture to itself. For this reason organisms do not live in high concentrations of salt. Not because it is poisonous to them but, because it sucks their life moistures out of them thus killing them. For that simple reason sea salt added to raw meat or fish will preserve them by essentially drying or “curing” them, preventing rotting.
Vegetables can be preserved in similar fashion either in a brine (pickling) or through salt fermentation.
As unglamorous as it may sound, fermentation is nothing more than a controlled “rotting” process. The entire concept of fermented vegetables is based on salt. If you cut up any vegetable, place it onto a plate, then salt it and leave it for about 20 minutes, you will notice that it will “sweat,” giving off it’s moisture.
Sauerkraut is a good example of this. It’s just cabbage chopped thin, salted and then left to ferment. Olives are the same. When picked olives are green and bitter, making them inedible. Salt is added to them to ferment them. The salt fermentation process basically draws out moistures and other volatile ingredients that would otherwise rot them if left unsalted. The pungent smell from fermentation is just the volatile ingredients that would have been the cause of rotting, being released. The remainder of the fermentation process then releases it from the resulting brine. So, instead of rotten vegetables we are left with a naturally preserved, healthy food.
The cheese making process also involves salting the cheese curds as they form. Salt acts both as a flavor enhancer, as it does with most foods and, as a preservative ensuring the cheese will not spoil over its months or years of aging.
Having said all of this, would it be worth anyone’s while to pay a little extra for some naturally evaporated sea salt? Well, maybe not everyone, but for those who appreciate the added subtle flavor that it imparts to foods, for those who value having a product that has not been intensely chemically processed and for those who understand the worth of a natural food with it’s full unadulterated spectrum of nutritional constituents as Nature had intended – obviously it does!
The price is not that drastic. For your basic sea salt out of a bulk bin you’re looking at $.79/lb versus about $.50 for regular table salt. But, if you really want to get exotic Himalayan salt can go for about $40/lb. And there are all kinds of other exotic salts in all kinds of colors for astronomical prices. Or, you can always buy French or Sicilian sun dried salt for a reasonable price.
Salt and Health
It is clear that salt is essential to life but like all other essential things, having too much or not enough can be harmful.
The fact that salt draws moisture to itself gives it antiseptic properties. The absorbing and drawing ability of salt make it effective for both gargling and bathing as it draws unhealthy substances towards itself and kills bacteria in the process. It is not uncommon for people to go to salty bodies of water like the Dead Sea for their health benefits. Bathing in the oceans and salty seas of the world has afforded similar benefits from nothing more than mineral absorption and the transfer of toxins through the skin into the water. The skin loves it. Many people go into salt water just to relieve skin ailments through the drawing and supplementing properties of plain salt water.
For many the ocean is too far away so, it is not uncommon for people to soak in a hot bathtub in one or two pounds of sea salt to detoxify, ease pain or just to soak it up and relax.
At the turn of the century when modern medicine was taking over and delegitimizing all manner of otherwise proven and effective naturopathic and homeopathic practices many mineral spas throughout the USA were closed for suggesting any kind of health benefit from their hot mineral rich spring waters.
It is also a fact that minerals and food compounds are far more active in their natural state than in refined chemical form. This means that their effect is evident even in trace amounts. Sea salt has many trace elements that contribute collectively and singularly to specific health issues. For instance, the bromide in sea salt soothes and calms the nerves. Magnesium has a similar effect plus several others. Altogether they supplement deficiencies and have even been clinically proven to ease depression in their whole form with just normal use in cooking.
Salt And Dehydration
Did you know that when sodium levels are too low, the body will not absorb water to hydrate itself – even if already seriously dehydrated? That fact alone really puts the importance of salt into perspective, making it essential under extreme conditions. Furthermore, drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, can produce water intoxication. The body does not readily store salt (sodium) and like it or not we loose sodium through perspiration and urination. Making it necessary to ingest it supplementally or in food preparation. The most common concentrated form available to us is still salt, preferably sea salt.
The symptoms of extreme dehydration, electrolyte depletion and low sodium levels can range from mild in the form of confusion, headache, changes in appetite, changes in mood, nervousness, restlessness and irritability, fatigue, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps, to moderate in the form of urinary incontinence, loss of energy, nausea and vomiting to extreme in the form of hallucinations, seizures, unconsciousness and coma.
Salt tablets have been dispensed to prevent dehydration and electrolyte depletion for people working or living in hot jungle or desert environments. They were commonly given to soldiers, workers and athletes serving, working or training in extreme heat for reasons that have been known for thousands of years. It is also obvious that to get the full health benefits, natural sea salt works best.
It is clear that simply drinking water is not synonymous with hydration if you are not also getting some essential minerals like sodium and potassium at the same time. To extend the merits of that logic; it is not uncommon to hear health experts say that to prevent heart problems and blood pressure issues a person should A) cut back on salt, B) get plenty of exercise and C) drink lots of water. It would seem that scientific facts would indicate otherwise; at least as far as salt, hydration and electrolyte balance are concerned. In fact, to drink a lot of water in a hot climate without the addition of salt can be deadly, especially if the water happens to be distilled as it would leach out essential minerals (salts).
Like most things that are essential; sodium is abundant. It’s the 6th most abundant element on the planet but it is always found as a salt compound never in it’s pure form. In pure form it is a soft, white metal that when it is mixed with water sodium will release a lot of heat; even ignite and explode. It can safely be assumed that the “hot” nature of sodium is part of it’s operating principle that makes salt very active in all it’s applications and operations and fundamental to well being. From our sciences we can now say with certainty that salt:
- Helps carrying nutrients into and out of cells
- Is a major component of blood plasma, and all bodily fluids
- Increasing the glial cells in the brain and other parts of the nervous system to help maintain them and by extension all that the brain and nerves do including communicate with muscles and infinitely more.
- Maintains and regulates blood pressure
- And much, much more . . .
As a speculative point in relation to sodium’s inherent heat; heat is energy and all function need energy and make use of it in unimaginable and uncountable ways. When muscles convert energy into movement it happens through a series of processes within the cells that include sodium as a major player in fluid transfer between the cells. It makes sense that sodium should be tied to the body’s ability through those cellular activities, not only as a catalyst in provoking essential chemical activities but also to employ it’s energy as a contributing factor in physical performance.
Furthermore, because of how sodium releases heat as a reaction to water, drawing water to itself in the process, it makes sense that sodium should have an important role in the dynamics, chemistry and fluid volume in the body. Naturally, this impacts the blood itself and the mechanism that makes it flow. Which leads us to another vital point . . . .
If salt is so essential to life and health then why are we being told that it causes something as critical as high blood pressure and heart disease? Well, as it turns out, it may not. In fact, some pretty authoritative health groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation are suggesting that the FDA recommendations to restrict salt could pose serious health risks.
This paradox is being substantiated by some MD’s who are now suggesting that the link between salt intake and high blood pressure is a myth and they have studies to back it up. One study compared hunter/gatherer societies to industrialized societies where the intake of sodium (salt) was the same and found that there were no increases in blood pressure among the non-industrialized people; even in advanced years. The same could not be said about industrialized societies though. Clearly, there are different factors involved but salt did not seem to be one of them.
Dr. Joseph Mercola has sited twelve separate studies done over a twenty-five year period that failed to show any benefit from a low salt diet. In fact, it showed worse clinical outcomes with higher mortality rates, increased probability of cardiovascular issues and detrimental affects on kidney functions because of it.
Those same studies showed that low sodium levels influenced bone integrity, especially among the elderly; producing fractures in the vertebrae and big bones at a rate more than double that of those with normal sodium levels. It also showed that low urinary sodium was also associated with a higher risk of heart attack. Ultimately suggesting that “normal” sodium intake did not necessarily affect blood pressure in most.
From the Natural alternative point of view some of the effects mentioned suggest a strong Kidney relationship. It is believed in the alternative view that the Kidneys are in charge of bone building. If low sodium affect that function then it must in some way directly affect Kidney functions. Given that the Kidneys work with minerals it makes sense that they should be electrolyte balancing. And, if a person starts loosing their presence of mind from being dehydrated it will be from, among other things, being low in electrolytes of which sodium and potassium are major players. Given that the Kidneys work primarily with water and the minerals in them; the Kidneys have a part in it.
That being the case, the relationship between high blood pressure, sodium and kidney function is at the very least, interesting and often central to the problem.
While over consumption of salt is indeed an issue, studies found that the main culprit was not salt use in normal home cooking. Not surprisingly, it was from the over consumption of processed foods which are proportionately very high in not only regular table salt but other sodium salts like MSG as well. In North American culture that is where over 80% of that extra sodium comes from.
Given that fact, if you’re the kind of person who is on the look out for sea salt you are not likely to be the same kind of person chowing down on highly processed foods to begin with.
The Spiritual Side Of Salt
We are all aware of the physicality of our lives. We see it all around us in what is in creation and in our own physical being. The physical side of life is obvious enough even if what life itself is and what makes it possible isn’t. Having no scientific explanation, some might agree that it is the intangible elements of life that make it possible. But, what we cannot see we tend to not consider.
We are all familiar with salt as a cooking ingredient, as a natural and essential multi mineral compound, something to bathe in as well as several other things but, few if any consider what it actually is by virtue of what it does or represents beyond it’s chemistry and usefulness.
Salts are already in everything, which is why everything can be reduced to a “salt.” All you have to do is burn something, anything thing that is natural – to an ash. What is left is a salt, characteristic of what you started out with. In order to be cleaned and drawn out it must be put into pure water, filtered and then evaporated. The minerals that come from the Earth, driven by waters and rains as tiny mineral particles eroded from distant mountains and soils, flowing through rivers towards the oceans and seas are collected in similar fashion for our culinary, health and industrial needs.
Salt is mentioned over 40 times in various contexts in the Bible; the most notable in reference to the twelve Apostles as being the “Salt of the Earth.” As odd as this reference may sound, it will make more sense further down. In order to make more sense of salt in this context you need to consider what salt itself is and what is accomplished through it’s effects in living things.
Salts stimulate and act as catalysts in life processes for the purpose of driving living things towards the fulfillment of their purpose.
Salts exist in all living things, in all plants, animals and foods. The minerals and metals that make up salts are never in isolated pure forms. They are mixed with each other to form salts. As an integral part of the structure of living things those fundamental constituent ingredients are reduced to mineral Earth as the living substances that made up their body leave when they die.
Animals and humans crave salt. If you place a block of salt into a field, not only will the livestock lick it until completely consumed but, given the chance so will the wild animals. Why would they if they didn’t feel they needed it? Some children will seek out salt to eat it as is and people will also seek out salty foods. When the craving has been satiated most will instinctively know when they have had enough.
We add salt to foods as they cook to replace the salts that are being cooked out of them, to enhance their flavor and to aid in the digestion of the food itself. It is hard to deny that the salt that we as humans need and commonly use has a stimulating effect in our mouth and on our palate when placed onto the tongue. If that effect can be produced on the tongue, it is logical that it should continue throughout the body as it is distributed through normal digestion.
That said, as another speculative point it would seem that the benefit of salt in aiding in digestion may have something to do with the heat that it imparts towards the overall digestive process. When we digest we are in effect re-cooking our food in our stomach to break it down into useable elements for the body. Sodium in salt may contribute it’s inherent heat towards that process. That suggestion may not be as naive as it may sound because whatever gets in the way of that heat interferes with digestion. To date, no one has ever produced fecal matter in a test tube through artificial means, which would imply that few, if any, can say that they understand the entire process of digestion conclusively. Therefore, there is plenty of room for other suggestions, concepts and insights to explain it.
That effect in our body is of a catalytic nature in that the salt stimulates activity in digestive processes in the stomach and general digestive tract as well as in all other parts, organs and muscles of the body. These facts are well known and researched.
On a consciousness or spiritual level, the same stimulating effect physical salt has on our physical organism, the experiences of life acting as a stimulating, catalytic “spiritual salt” that provokes us into activity has on our spiritual life. That spiritual salt acting as the proverbial “spice of life.”
Ultimately, life is activity; the very activity we are being stimulated into. We all use and need this to our own benefit, not one more than other. Sometimes it is harsh, at other times gentle and fascinating but always stimulating us to move towards what we love and draws us deeper towards self discovery and a greater enlightenment.
We are stimulated into activity in life by our physical needs and through life’s adversities and challenges. Without these we would have no need to find meaningful activity to occupy ourselves with. These have been called the “salt of life” by Gottfried Mayerhofer. It was the Apostolic mission of the Twelve Apostles to “stimulate” people towards a spiritual life through the contemplation of Biblical script making them, the Quintessential “Salt of the Earth” as dubbed by Jesus Christ Himself. That “stimulation” resulted in activity that produced an estimated 2.18 billion adherents worldwide out of a total population of about 6.9 billion – a testimony to the catalytic effect of “salt” in principle. Other spiritual movements have had a similar effect. The better the “salt” the stronger that movement. Even so, the symbolic meaning of salt has been lost to most.
Everyone has a different concept of life and it’s ultimate meaning and purpose. But, few will deny that the most essential part of life is attained through our experiences in life. It is through life experiences and higher contemplation that we are stimulated to mature; keeping us moving forward towards a greater understanding of life and higher perfection through seemingly normal daily activities.
Our life experiences act no differently upon our mental, emotional and ultimately spiritual development than what physical salt does to and for us in our physical body. By stimulating our internal organ activity we exist, by stimulating our life activity we live. The miraculous thing is, that this happens without our knowing it, enabling our physical bodies to function in the pursuit of our goals and loves, in such a matter of course manner that we don’t even give it a second thought.
Salt may seem insignificant but it is another understated miracle that makes all aspects of life possible. The fact that we often overlook it does not diminish that.