Don't be fooled by clever packaging -- sea salt may appear healthier than regular table salt, but the sodium content is identical. That said, it may still do you good to switch to sea salt if you're watching your sodium intake. Sea salt is less refined, and thus usually has a more complex flavor -- so you could get the same salty pizzazz while using less. (ref 3)
Table salt and sea salt are both sodium chloride, and contain 40 percent sodium by weight. But these salts are not created equal: table salt is more highly processed, and manufacturers remove minerals that provide color and flavor. Sea salt is made with evaporated ocean water, and minerals are left largely intact. That's why sea salt has the "pretty" factor along with a more complex taste. What sea salt often lacks, however, is iodine. Table salt manufacturers fortify their products with this essential trace mineral, while sea salt makers typically don't. You need iodine for a healthy thyroid and proper food metabolism.
Most healthy adult women under age 51 should aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is a teaspoon of table salt. A teaspoon of sea salt has just 2,000 milligrams of sodium because it's less densely packed. It's not fair, but if you're African American, are diabetic or have high blood pressure, you're daily sodium allotment is less than 1,500 milligrams. The average American eats 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day, so odds are that you're getting too much.
Why does sodium intake matter? For one thing, excess sodium leads to water retention, leaving you bloated. Your body needs a specific concentration of sodium in fluids, so it retains water to maintain a healthy balance when you consume too much sodium. Scarier, though, is the fact that too much sodium causes your blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke -- and in the United States, more women than men die of cardiovascular diseases each year.
Most of the sodium in your diet probably comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Thus, the first step in reducing sodium is to prepare your own meals. Choose whole, natural foods: unsalted rice, pasta, walnuts, romaine lettuce, bell peppers and peaches are all sodium-free foods. Instead of salt, season dishes with garlic, onion, parsley, basil, curry powder and black pepper. When you do use packaged fare, check the label -- one quick trick is to stick with foods that have fewer milligrams of sodium per serving than calories. So a 130-calorie serving of canned beans with 90 milligrams of sodium is OK.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Chloride in Diet - Food Sources
- MayoClinic.com: Sea Salt vs. Table Salt: What's the Difference?
- University of Maryland Medical School: Women and Heart Disease
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Where's the Sodium?
- The Wellness Corner: Salt, Sodium, and High Blood Pressure
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Sodium Content of Selected Foods
- MedlinePlus: Iodine in Diet
- Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images