Sea salt” is a strange name in that most salt originally cames from the sea; but there are important differences between sea salt and ordinary table salt. Sea salt is much more expensive – six dollars and up per household purchase. It’s glamorized as gourmet because of its different taste and textures and its mineral variety. (It is also used as a bath salt with color and scents added. It can be absorbed through the skin, so if your family uses it as a bath salt, that should be considered while you determine how much you should cook with it. Sea salt’s appeal is largely that it is considered to be a “natural” product.
The term “natural” on a food label means very little, however. It is vague and labeling regulations allow it to be used freely. In the broadest sense, any salt is natural. The minerals that compose it come from nature.
Cooking has two objectives: to make food taste good and to preserve its nutritional value. After all we eat to live, not live to eat – at least that is the healthier attitude. The taste differences between the two kinds of salt are somewhat subtle, but the nutritional differences are conspicuous.
The exact mineral content of sea salt depends upon what area it comes from and whether or not the manufacturer purifies it. Some sea water is polluted and other sea water is quite clean. It is more difficult to purify sea salt, because it has so many kinds of minerals it it. Don’t assume that it is purified, just because you buy it from a food company.
The Tropical Salt Corporation (based in New Jersey) obtains its sea salt from the Caribbean and has a plant in Haiti. Because Haiti is an economically depressed nation, it’s especially good to import from there. Read-on, however, to determine how much sea salt you might want to buy and use in your cooking.
The corporate web site, tropicalsalt.com, posts the mineral content of its salt as determined by laboratory testing. It has 174 parts per million of bromide, 78 ppm of iron, 54 ppm of chloride and 34 ppm of sodium, as well as trace amounts of potassium, magnesium, manganese and zinc. The lower sodium content of sea salt compared to table salt is good for most people, because so many processed foods contain unhealthful amounts of sodium.
In human physiology the balance between potassium and sodium are more important than the amount of either one. Both sea and table salt have only tiny amounts of potassium. The recommended daily allowance of potassium for most adults is in the range of 4000-5000 mg, but for sodium it’s only 2400 mg. Most people should have about twice as much potassium as sodium daily. Potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables.
Manganese is a trace mineral that is not so familiar to most people. Manganese plays an important role in energy metabolism, but it is also available in vegetables, fruits, grain, bran, nuts and tea (www.healthcastle.com/nutrition101_manganese.shtml).
The bromide in sea salt could cause thyroid problems, for two reasons. First, bromide competes with iodide in binding to receptor molecules on thyroid cell membranes. The receptors transport the ions into the cells. There are a limited number of these receptors in the cell membrane, so if bromide ions bump into the receptors more often than iodide ions, the iodide ions don’t have a fair chance to compete. So what? Iodide ions are critical to thyroid health. If you don’t have enough iodide getting into thyroid cells your thyroid gland won’t work right. That’s a big deal. Low thyroxin secretion by this gland can result in severe health problems. Examples are chronic constipation, excessively dry skin, abnormally low metabolism, low body temperature and mental fogginess.
Second, In contrast people get huge amounts of bromide ion by contact with some plastics and carpeting. Of course, only babies and small children would consider chewing plastic or carpet fibers, but eating is not the only way to ingest bromide. It can be oxidized to bromine and inhaled as fumes that get into the air from the plastics in a hot car, for example. Oxidation of bromide ions in synthetic carpet fibers can occur as a result of sunlight coming through a window or by a house fire. Once inside the body, bromine gas could then be reduced to bromide ions again. The point is that people get more than enough bromide ions without eating them. (www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/bromine/basics/facts.asp). Moreover the value of bromine in human nutrition is still obscure. If it does contribute something important, it would still be a competitor with iodide. Just as health requires a balance between sodium and potassium, there would need to be a balance between bromine and iodine in the diet. (Remember – this assumes that bromine plays a positive role.)
Excess bromide can also cause acne, other skin eruptions, mood swings and emotional over-reacting.
The body doesn’t need large amounts of iodide, but the main two nutritional sources are sea food and iodized table salt. Most in-landers and even many coastal people eat little sea food, because fresh sea food is expensive. That’s why it is important to get it from iodized table salt.
The lesson from all this is that sea salt as a seasoning or in bath salts should be an occasional luxury, not a daily staple. The benefits to be derived from trace amounts of potassium, manganese, zinc, and magnesium and the moderate amount of iron are far outweighed by the overdosing that would probably occur if sea salt were to be used as a daily substitute for iodized table salt, especially in cooking where the amounts used would be usually be higher. If you cook with sea salt, do so sparingly and use iodized table salt regularly.