In this the second part of the article, we'll be hearing from raw food experts who believe unrefined sea salt is the opposite of healthful, and I'll be looking at what's in the salt, specifically those '84 minerals' we hear so much about. I'll then be looking at the amount of salt in raw food recipes and comparing this with the salt in cooked vegan recipes, and showing how raw fooders may be at risk of developing a salt addiction where there was none before! I'll then give some suggestions for those who would like to reduce (or cut out altogether) their consumption of sodium chloride, however 'unrefined'.
WHAT ARE THE '84 MINERALS' IN UNREFINED SEA SALT?
Many people who buy unrefined sea salt do so because they are convinced that the '84 minerals' in the salt are good for them. I will be showing you what these minerals are, to help you decide how 'essential' they are, and will also suggest that those minerals that are essential can all be found easily in raw foods.
Table salt is 99% sodium chloride, as other minerals present in the natural salt are removed through processing.
Unrefined sea salt is 84% sodium chloride, and at least 95% sodium chloride by dry weight (see Pt 1), but, yes, those additional minerals are still there. Therefore it's fair to say, as some do, that the sodium chloride is (a little) less concentrated. It's also fair for sellers to say that unrefined sea salt is 'not just sodium chloride'. But it's still mostly sodium chloride.
Many people buy unrefined sea salt for these additional minerals, as, it's kind of comforting to know there are 84 minerals present in our salt, and, for some, helps justify the high price. So, after two years of using the salt, I thought it was about time I found out what these 84 minerals were.
The 84 minerals are those present in sea water. They include:
This, as discussed in Pt 1, can easily be obtained from plant foods.
The body uses chloride to make hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is the stomach acid used to break up fats and proteins. This is why you will hear people say (often salt sellers) that 'salt is essential for digestion'. Well, yes that's true, insofar as chloride, like sodium, is a salt, and, yes, chloride is essential for digestion. But the compound 'sodium chloride', as in unrefined sea salt, is not essential for digestion. Before human beings started collecting for or mining for the residue from evaporated sea water and adding it to their food, their digestions worked fine. Chloride is naturally present in many foods, particularly tomatoes, lettuce, kale, celery, beets, olives and sea vegetables.
Some people are indeed 'low' on HCl. However, in cooked-food eaters, this can be due to the stresses of a standard cooked diet (eg meat digestion puts great demands on HCl). And, if they are low on HCl and do not change their diets, there will of course be digestion problems. In the raw vegan however, 'low' HCl is likely due to the fact that the more easy-to-digest plant foods we eat, the less HCl the body makes, as a healthy body on a healthy diet will (Dr Doug Graham, '80/10/10 Diet') 'make just the amount of HCl we actually need'.
Chloride deficiency is rare, including amongst those who add little or no salt to their food. Nutritionist Adam Greer: 'Chloride requirements are in direct proportion to sodium intake. So, if you're consuming low sodium, then you're pretty certain to require lower chloride. If you're eating enough calories, you are likely to be consuming enough chloride.'
The only other minerals that unrefined sea salt contains in any significant amount are magnesium and potassium. Let's look at these:
One serving (0.9g) of unprocessed sea salt contains 3 mg of magnesium. However, a cup of spinach contains 24 mg, and a banana 32 mg.
One serving of salt contains 1 mg of potassium. But a tomato contains 292 mg and a banana 422 mg.
So what are the other 80 minerals? Here they are:
hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur, calcium, bromine, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, fluorine, neon, aluminium, silicon, phosphorus, argon, scandium, titanium, vanadium, molybdenum, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, argentum (silver), cadmium, indium, stannum, antimony, tellurium, iodine, xenon, cesium, barium, anthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dyprosium, holmium, chromium, manganese, ferrum, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, gallium, germanium, arsenic, selenium, krypton, rubidium, strontium, yttrium, zirconium, niobium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, hafnium, tantalum, tungsten, rhenium, osmium, iridium, platinum, aurum (gold), mercury, thallium, lead, bismuth, thorium, uranium, plutonium.
Have a look through. The list includes some that we might not normally associate with health.
Although, the manufacturer of one brand of unrefined sea salt tells us that 'Everyone is exposed to low levels of these and other elements every day, far more than is present in sea salt.' I understand that in sea salt some of these elements are at such low levels that some chemists' equipment can't detect them, or that they are within 'safe limits'. As set by Codex Alimentarius. So that's OK then.
Interestingly, some people working in the field of health (and particularly those selling unrefined sea salt) claim that all of the 80 named above are (according to one salt seller) 'essential for health'. A perusal of health sites tells me that unrefined sea salt contains '84 known human cell-replenishing minerals', that the 84 are 'all essential for your health and well-being' and that all 84 are 'nutritional elements'.
As I had not been aware that minerals such as arsenic, lead and mercury were 'cell-replenishing' or 'essential for health and well-being' I checked several sources for corroboration, from nutrition sites to biochemistry textbooks, and found that scientists are pretty united in saying that around 20 of the 84 only are 'essential' for health. Isn't it funny how people can disagree? And that list of 20 includes, for example, zinc, copper, selenium...names we're familiar with - and all 20 can be found in plant foods - I checked that as well.
But...sure, scientists don't know all there is to know, and some in the health world obviously believe there are certain minerals outside the 20 that can benefit us. However, if many of the 84 elements in salt, although known to be 'present', are there in such minute quantities (parts per million) that some chemists' equipment can't even detect them, then surely there's a likelihood they've made their way, in these low concentrations, into our food anyway.
In short, my delving has uncovered no mineral present in unrefined sea salt that a) is essential and b) cannot be found just as easily, if not more easily in our food.
IS UNREFINED SEA SALT HEALTHFUL?
Here are two of the world's leading experts on raw food nutrition, who are in complete agreement. On this issue.
Brian Clements (Hippocrates Health Institute) says that salt (as in unrefined sea salt) should not be part of the raw food diet. 'Organic sodium is essential to the body's lymphatic fluids to be effective in cleaning the overall system. This sodium can be easily found in foods such as celery, celeriac, sea vegetables that have the sodium chloride washed off the surface, etc. Table salt, sea salt, crystal salt, celtic salt etc are all the same sodium chloride with the variation of other elements attached to it. Sodium chloride dehydrates the body and precipitates high blood pressure due to the arterial and organ contraction that occurs after consumption internally.' (Note I commented on the definition of 'organic' as used in this context in Pt 1.)
Dr Doug Graham says that sodium chloride is: 'an irritant and toxic to the body'.
And...you've heard them all before, but here they come - the dangers of salt (from around a million sources):
High blood pressure - Excess sodium means the body retains fluid, which increases the amount of fluid pumped by the heart and circulating in the bloodstream. The heart has to work harder, which puts the muscles under strain. Sodium chloride dehydrates, shrinking the arteries. Result - high blood pressure and, again, a heart under strain.
Stomach cancer - The National Cancer Research Institute at Kashiwa confirmed in 2004 that salt elevates - even doubles - the incidence of stomach cancer. (Japan has a relatively high rate of stomach cancer and it is suggested this is due to the large amounts of salted foods consumed there.)
Calcium-related problems, eg osteoporosis - The World Health Organisation in 'Vitamin and Mineral Requirements in Human Nutrition' tells us that the more sodium, the less calcium is absorbed. Also, salt has an acidic effect. The body, in order to maintain an optimal acid-alkaline balance, will counter acidity by leaching calcium (alkaline) from the bones.
Weight gain - Fluid retention from excess sodium is due to dehydration from the sodium pulling water out of the cells, and also because water is retained to neutralise salt's causticity. Fluid retention looks like a layer of fat, increases weight and makes us feel 'heavy'.
Yum yum. Pass the salt. Or rather...I'll 'pass' on the salt.
Isn't it crazy that we know that if we drink salt water instead of fresh, the consequences will be dire, and we know how to 'treat' salt water to remove the salt, that, at the same time, some craziness has resulted in our removing the salt from the water then ingesting it? So we're still ingesting a poison, albeit a slower-acting one!
So why, knowing all this, do many raw fooders add salt to their meals? Could be those '84 minerals' (discussed). Could be simply because they prefer the taste of food salted than unsalted.
WHY MIGHT FOOD TASTE 'BLAND' WITHOUT SALT?
Because, through a lifetime of unnatural living, we've developed a taste for salt.
Babies don't naturally desire salty foods (they go for sweet). A taste for salt is something we acquire through the practice of continually consuming salted food. This perverts our tastebuds until, sadly, we cannot appreciate the flavour of pure, natural food.
We've been told that salt 'brings out the flavour of the food.' In fact, it does the opposite. It masks the real flavour - the only flavour that is 'brought out' is that of salt. Those on high-raw diets who habitually add salt to their raw food will find it harder to resist the lure of highly-seasoned and/or spiced cooked food, as raw food without salt will seem lacking in flavour in comparison.
And salt is addictive. Raw nutrition expert Prof Rozi Graham explains: 'When salt is consumed, it hits the tastebuds with a tremendous sensory impact resulting in disturbance to the nervous system. This leads to a craving for repeated jolts of intense sensory satisfaction...condiments excite the tastebuds and trigger false appetite, leading to overeating beyond the body's physical needs.'
SALT IN RAW FOOD RECIPES
To those of you who enjoy making 'rawgourmet' food (as I do sometimes), have a look at some of the recipes in your favourite raw food recipe book. In particular, look at the recipes where there are various components to each dish (eg pizzas, lasagnes). You'll likely find in the ingredients lists half a teaspoon of salt here, half a teaspoon of salt there, plus perhaps some 'nama shoyu', or 'miso' for good measure. Then open one of your old cooked vegan (or even non-vegan) recipe books. You'll likely see, for an entire dish, a pinch of salt.
If you'd like to tot up the total sodium in your favourite raw food recipe, here are some figures:
Unrefined sea salt, 1/2 tsp, 660
Nama shoyu, 1 tbsp, 720
Miso, 1 tbsp, 680
Then compare it with the sodium intake figures in Part 1 of this article. Then do similar with a cooked recipe.
I compared one serving of a raw-vegan two-course meal of leaf wraps with dipping sauce, followed by lasagne, with as close as I could find for a cooked vegan equivalent - leaf wraps with non-dairy yoghurt, followed by a Mediterranean pie.
Cooked vegan meal: 178 mg sodium.
Raw vegan meal: 1265 mg sodium.
As you can see, the raw vegan meal contained over seven times the amount of sodium than the cooked vegan meal.
In the US, FDA food labelling regulations require a disclosure statement if food exceeds 480 mg of sodium per serving...
(Note - having said that not all the sodium in sodium chloride is assimilated, sodium intake via sodium chloride will be an over-estimate in both cases. However, I've compensated for that by measuring sodium for the salt and shoyu elements only, ie not including the sodium in the plant food ingredients. I also assumed only half the dipping sauce was consumed. So I feel the sodium figures are fair estimates.)
Sure, a complex two-course meal isn't daily fare for the average raw fooder, but if we do eat this sort of meal in the evening, perhaps at a raw food restaurant, we will find ourselves not only over the 'ideal' maximum (1200 mg) on that meal alone, but, if we've had additional sodium chloride earlier in the day, perhaps in the form of flax crackers, nut pate, etc, we will be over the 'acceptable' maximum. Too much of this type of 'raw food lifestyle' and a salt addiction could be created where there had been none before, and we could be on a diet that is, overall, less healthful than our former!
FOR THOSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO REDUCE THEIR SODIUM CHLORIDE INTAKE
A good first step for anyone who likes making raw food dishes, but finds the thought of cutting out all salt too much, is to at least halve the amount of salt in the recipe. And, if you are using nama shoyu or miso (neither are raw anyway), now could be a good time to stop. Doing those two things alone will make a big difference to your sodium chloride intake.
If you are missing the salty taste, refer to the high-sodium plant foods list. Include at least some of these foods in your raw food diet on a regular basis.
If you do significantly reduce your salt intake (whether that's to 'a little' or 'nil') you will likely be amongst the majority of raw fooders who experience no problems at all. However, some do experience a strong craving for salt and/or physical symptoms.
I did. When last year I moved from what I now realise was a high-salt raw food diet to no salt at all 'overnight', I experienced occasional muscle cramps and saliva reduction. This didn't happen straight away, but after a couple of weeks or so. The saliva reduction was quite a problem, as it resulted in a very dry mouth, in spite of my being adequately hydrated, and it was disturbing my sleep. I've since learned that this was most likely due to my body's potassium/sodium electrolyte balance being temporarily thrown askew by the sudden, dramatic decrease in sodium (together with large quantities of potassium via fruit, eg bananas) before my body had made adjustments to the healthier intake. (This imbalance has been known to happen on long-term water fasts which is why any fasting practitioner worth his salt (ouch) will monitor fasters' blood pressure.)
What I did was reintroduce just a little salt into my diet (but nowhere near as much as before) and increase my consumption of sodium-rich plant foods. Interestingly, sea vegetables tasted wonderful to me - at that time. After a week or two, the dry mouth went, and sea vegetables tasted...so-so. My body had obviously made the adjustment to lower salt intake successfully, following a little 'softening' of the regime. Please don't misunderstand me - the re-introduction of a little salt was simply because 'cold turkey' had proved to be a bit more than I could take - the bottom line is that I am convinced that any salt is still too much. But, for me, and others I've spoken to, gradual weaning off rather than an abrupt stop seems to be the safest option. (Alternatively, or additionally, seek out plant foods high in sodium, as listed in Part 1 - cantaloupe melon, grated sweet potato...these sorts of foods should taste particularly good during weaning!)
Since I started working on this article, I've reduced my intake still further, and my target is to reduce it to nil eventually (or perhaps almost nil, as I do like to visit raw food restaurants occasionally!). I've reduced it in the 'transition food' recipes on http://www.rawforlife.co.uk/, and it's absent in others.
Hopefully I've provided useful information, or at least review, for all readers (except of course for those who know the names of the '84 minerals' by heart) and assisted those who are currently adding salt to their raw food dishes in deciding whether to cut it out completely, reduce it, or make no changes in level of salt consumption.
And I do hope that it will encourage those who make, or invent those delicious rawgourmet meals (tell them - send them this article) to at least reduce the amount of sodium chloride in their recipes. Even more.)
Salt with your sodium? As with everything, we are given a choice.
(with thanks to David Zane Mason for pic)