WHAT IS SALT?
In Old English it’s sealt, in Dutch zout, German salz and in French, of course, sel. It’s a word that is deceptively simple yet full of a rich and complex history both social and geologic. Salt, in English from it’s Indo-European roots, is a stately combination of the Latin, sal and the Greek, hals
Common salt, or sodium chloride, is the chemical compound NaCl. Salt occurs naturally in many parts of the world as the mineral halite and as mixed evaporites in salt lakes. What is one of the best sources of this natural nutrient? Seawater. Containing lots of salt, it has an average of 2.6% NaCl (by weight), or 26 million metric tons per cubic kilometer. That’s 120 million short tons per cubic mile, an inexhaustible supply (Note: Seawater also contains other dissolved solids; salt represents about 77% of the Total Dissolved Solids).
Underground salt deposits are what is found in both bedded sedimentary layers and domal deposits. Salt deposits have been found to have encapsulated ancient microorganisms including bacteria. Some salt is on the earth’s surface, such as the dried-up residue of ancient seas like the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Salt even arrives on earth from outer space, and its presence on the planet Mars has led scientists to think life may exist there (or at least be supportable). Amazingly, surface salt deposits and man-made saltworks can even be seen from space.
WHAT DO SALT CRYSTALS LOOK LIKE?
Sodium chloride crystals are cubic in form. Table salt consists of tiny cubes tightly bound together through ionic bonding of the sodium and chloride ions. The salt crystal is often used as an example of crystalline structure. The size and shape of salt crystals can be modified by temperature. Sodium chloride is available in several different particle sizes (gradation) and forms, depending on what the intended end use is.
Different types of crystals also have different uses. Discrete crystals can be seen in rock salt used for deicing. Fine granules are typical of what is used for table salt and even finer popcorn salt. Kosher salt, pickling salt and ice cream salt are slightly coarser. Small compressed pellets are what is used in water softeners and large salt blocks are what is used as salt licks for livestock. When viewed under strong magnification, all sodium chloride is crystalline. Very large cubic crystals, of two, three or more inches in size, can be seen in some salt mines. They are transparent and cleave into perfect cubes when struck with a hard object.
Salt varies in color from colorless when pure, to white, gray or brownish, which is typical of rock salt (halite). Chemically, salt is 60.663% elemental chlorine (Cl) and 39.337% sodium (Na). The atomic weight of elemental chlorine is 35.4527 and that of sodium is 22.989768. Properties of salt are collected in the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Chemical Sampling Information database.
The worlds’ top five producers according to the United States Geologic Survey are China, the United States, India, Germany, and Australia but salt production can be found on every continent from the furthest reaches of Eritrea to Indonesia and Peru to Madagascar. Salt is more than just a grouping of letters found on the periodic table or a commodity bought and sold on the international market it is a life substance essential to the proper functioning of the human body.
WHAT EXACTLY IS SALT?
Our chart below shows all of its amazing properties:
Properties of Pure Sodium Chloride:
Molecular weight – NaCl 58.4428
Atomic weight – Na 22.989768 (39.337%)
Atomic weight – Cl 35.4527 (60.663%)
Eutectic composition 23.31% NaCl
Freezing point of eutectic mixture -21.12° C (-6.016°F)
Crystal form Isometric, Cubic
Color Clear to White
Index of refraction 1.5442
Density or specific gravity 2.165 (135 lb/ft3)
Bulk density, approximate (dry, ASTM D 632 gradation) 1.154 (72 lb/ft3)
Angle of repose (dry, ASTM D 632 gradation) 32°
Melting point 800.8° C (1,473.4° F)
Boiling point 1,465°C (2,669° F)
Hardness (Moh’s Scale ) 2.5
Critical humidity at 20 °C, (68° F) 75.3%
pH of aqueous solution neutral
Purity of rock salt produced in North America varies depending on the type of salt (evaporated, rock, solar) and on the source. Rock salt typically ranges between 95% and 99% NaCl, and mechanically evaporated salt and solar salt normally exceed 99% NaCl. Evaporated salt made with purified brine has the highest purity, in some cases 99.99% NaCl. Voluntary standards, such as those developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) assure appropriate quality for what the intended use is. Mandatory specifications for food grade, drug/medical and analytical use include Food Chemicals Codex, U.S. Pharmacopoeia, and Reagent Grade Chemicals. Special devices, called refractometers, are what is used to measure salinity.
Common salt or sodium chloride is considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe for its intended use as a food additive. This GRAS (generally recognized as safe) classification, and the universal use of sodium chloride since ancient times, affirms its safety. The Merck Index is what refers to sodium chloride as “not generally considered poisonous.” However, it is recognized that many substances in everyday use can be toxic in high concentrations, even too much water.
WHAT IS SALT USED FOR?
Salt exists naturally in seawater. When an area of seawater becomes enclosed it evaporates under the sun, a deposit is left. Over millions of years other sediments have been deposited over the salt, leaving beds of halite (rock salt) below the surface.
Salt used to be used just as a diet supplement and as a means of preserving food. Later, salt was used in such processes as tanning, dyeing and bleaching.
Relatively more recently, salt has been used for glazing pottery, soap-making and the early manufacture of chlorine. Today salt is widely used in the chemical industry, and also for water softening.
WHY THE HUMAN BODY NEEDS SALT
Not only does salt help control your fluid balance, it also controls the way your muscles and nerves work. Our bodies automatically regulate how much salt, or sodium, there is present. If levels are too high we get thirsty and drink – this speeds up the elimination of salt through our kidneys.
HOW MUCH SALT DO WE NEED?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA)1, sodium consumption should not exceed 1.5g per day (3.75g of salt), and that even includes healthy people without high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.
AHA’s chief executive officer, Nancy Brown said “Our recommendation is simple in the sense that it applies to the entire U.S population, not just at-risk groups. Americans of all ages, regardless of individual risk factors, can improve the heart health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by restricting their daily consumption of sodium to less that 1,500 milligrams.”
The AHA recommendation was published in the journal Circulation (November 5th, 2012 issue).
According to the Food Standards Agency (UK)3, the human Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) should be:
- Age 11 years and over, 6g per day (2300 mg sodium)
- Age 7-10 years, 5g per day
- Age 4-6 years, 3g per day
- Age 1-3 years, 2g per day.
Infants under 1 year should not be given salt because their kidneys are not matured.
HOW SALT CAN AFFECT HEALTH
Studies have indicated that too much salt consumption is linked to health problems, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and osteoporosis. If you suffer from hypertension you would benefit from consuming less salt.
Very young children, very elderly people, as well as people with kidney disease cannot excrete sodium and regulate body fluid efficiently.
Scientists from Deakin University, Burwood, Australia, found that kids who consume salty foods tend to seek out an accompanying sugary drink. They reported their findings in the journal Pediatrics (December 2012 issue).10
This combination of salty foods and sugar-sweetened drinks could make it more likely that a child becomes overweight or obese.
If salt consumption were reduced, the authors wrote, perhaps children’s desire for sugar-sweetened drinks would be less, resulting in better body weight control.
The researchers added that fluid intake was also linked to salt consumption – the more salt children ate, the more fluids they drank. Sugary drinks also tend to raise fluid intake.
SALT AND HUMAN CONSUMPTION
Sodium chloride, more commonly known as salt, represents an essential element of life, being one of the elements without which the human body cannot function. Sodium is an essential nutrient, a mineral that the body cannot manufacture itself but which is required to sustain life and good health. Due to the importance of sodium to your body, several interacting mechanisms guard against under-consumption of salt and its threat to your body’s nerves and muscles. However, research has tended to focus on the risks of over-consumption rather then under-consumption.
For decades, appropriate salt consumption has been the subject of much debate amongst scientists, researchers and medical health professionals. Americans, on average, consume about 3,400 mg/day according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. As the availability of processed and “fast” foods has increased over the years, sodium consumption has come under intense scrutiny as a major cause of heart disease. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2014, tested sodium consumption in more than 100,000 people in 17 countries and found that a healthy range of intake was actually higher than originally thought. According to this research the range of safe consumption is between 3,000 and 6,000 mg/day. This study went so far as to say that eating less than 3,000 mg/day can actually increase your risk of a cardiovascular incident more than a diet high in sodium. So we can deduce from this that average American salt consumption is well within a safe range.
Even with all the scrutiny the conclusion still remains elusive as to whether or not a diet low in sodium is actually reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. A Cochrane Review published in 2014, concluded “Further evidence of the effects of different ways of reducing dietary salt on clinical events is needed from experimental and observational studies to underpin public health policies.”
SaltWorks supports a diet high in fresh natural foods prepared with the moderate use of sea salt for healthy individuals as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EATING SEA SALT?
Sea salt, which is obtained by evaporating seawater, contains essential minerals and nutrients that are removed from table salt during the refining process. The sodium and chloride content in sea salt and table salt are similar, but sea salt has larger crystals with more flavor than powdered table salt. Minerals contained in sea salt are in their natural ratios, and this helps keep the body’s electrolytes in balance.
Apart from sodium, which is the primary mineral of any salt, pure sea salt retains all essential natural elements from the sea. Sea salt can contain magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and iodine. Each of these elements is essential for good human health. For instance, calcium is required for bone formation, magnesium is necessary for proper cell and brain function and iodine is essential to the cell metabolism necessary for normal growth.
MINIMIZING SODIUM INTAKE
EliminatIng all salt from your diet is unhealthy, because minerals contained in it are essential for the proper functioning of nearly all biological processes, states Dr. Michael Alderman, a hypertension specialist. The human body would not exist without these salts, according to Dr. Barbara Hendel, a researcher and author of “Water and Salt, The Essence of Life.” The larger crystals and saltier taste of sea salt enable you to use less salt to season your foods and still achieve the same effect, thus reducing your sodium intake.
Pure sea salt contains approximately 80 essential elements and minerals in their natural ratio that are essential for maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes in the body. This balance bolsters transmission of information between the brain and nerve cells, which influences heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, among other functions. Also, sea salt helps the kidneys get rid of excess acidity from body fluids while at the same time helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
In addition, sea salt can help prevent dehydration. Adding 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt to every half gallon of clean water you drink can help you hold water and prevent dehydration, according to Dr. Craig Reese. The high percentage of iodine in sea salt enables the thyroid gland to manufacture hormones required for proper functioning and normal growth and development.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SALT & DEHYDRATION IN THE HUMAN BODY
When your body loses more fluid, such as that lost through sweating, than you consume, dehydration results. Many people experience mild dehydration from time to time. However, profound dehydration leads to serious and sometimes critical electrolyte imbalances, including that of sodium. If you are at risk for dehydration and a sodium imbalance, understanding the symptoms and signs of each allows you to seek appropriate medical treatment in a timely manner if necessary.
CAUSES OF DEHYDRATION
In addition to simply not drinking enough water to replace normal body water losses, other causes of dehydration include diarrhea, particularly if you experience excessive diarrhea in a short amount of time, and vomiting. If you experience concurrent diarrhea and vomiting, your risk of dehydration increases. A fever increases your likelihood for developing dehydration. The higher the fever is, the greater your risk for dehydration. Excessive sweating from situations in which you overexert yourself or become overheated–especially if you do not compensate for fluid and electrolyte loss–leads to dehydration. Additionally, dehydration is a potential manifestation of any condition causing you to urinate more than usual. These conditions include the use of diuretic medications, excessive alcohol consumption and uncontrolled diabetes.
SYMPTOMS AND COMPLICATIONS OF DEHYDRATION
Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration are increased thirst, headache, lightheadedness, constipation, dry skin and mouth, tiredness and a lack of tears when crying. You may also notice that you are not urinating as much as normal. When mild dehydration progresses, symptoms and complications include severe thirst, lack of sweating, irritability, confusion, sunken eyes and shriveled skin. You may also experience a fever, hypotension, rapid heart rate and respiration, fever and even unconsciousness.
Hypernatremia, or a high serum salt level, is almost always a result of dehydration. A healthy blood level of sodium for an adult is between 136 mEq/L and 145 mEq/L. If dehydration causes your sodium level to rise higher than 145 mEq/L, you will likely begin to experience symptoms of hypernatremia. These symptoms include dizziness when changing positions or standing up, fever, excessive sweating, vomiting and diarrhea.
COMPLICATIONS OF HYPERNATREMIA
Untreated hypernatremia progresses and results in potentially life-threatening complications. Contact your doctor immediately if you are at risk for dehydration and hypernatremia and notice a loss of appetite that does not improve over time, muscle weakness or frequent vomiting or diarrhea. The same is true if you experience constipation that does not respond to laxatives. Also, notify your doctor if you notice yourself becoming suddenly confused, if your chest hurts or if you have trouble breathing.