Salt is not the devil.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for health.

It regulates the amount of water in the body and is a key component in generating electrical signals that power communication between the brain, nervous system, and muscles.

Too much or too little sodium therefore can cause cells to malfunction,

And extremes in blood sodium levels (too much or too little) can be fatal.

Confession, I love salt.

Who doesn’t?

And now you can stop feeling guilty about it. According to the experts at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, it boils down to biology. We like the taste because our bodies need sodium chloride.

In an article on titled, Salt Makes Everything Taste Better, Kimberly Y. Masibay writes,

Thanks to its chemical nature, salt has the amazing ability to intensify agreeable tastes and diminish disagreeable ones. What more could a cook ask for?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old saw about salt bringing out the flavor of a dish. Well, the scientists at the Monell Center say it’s absolutely true. The reason: Some flavor compounds are too subtle to detect, but when you add even just a teeny amount of salt, neurological magic happens: Suddenly, our taste receptors can detect flavors they weren’t able to sense before.

And adding salt to other foods ensures we will get a variety of nutrients for just this reason.

All salt is not created equal

Whether sea, macrobiotic, or table, any salt is basically sodium chloride. The difference occurs in the processing — or lack of — and like most other processed foods, table salt comes with some health risks.

First, it is heated to break the molecular structure, then stripped of all “impurities,” such as naturally occurring minerals. Salt refiners take this now “pure” product and add aluminum compounds to help keep it dry and pourable. Potassium iodide replaces the naturally occurring iodine salts, and according to Sally Fallon, “in order to stabilize the volatile iodide compound, processors use dextrose, which turns the iodized salt a purplish color. A bleaching agent is then necessary to restore whiteness to the salt.”

Mmm mmm good.

According to the American Heart Association, salt added at the table accounts for only 5% – 10% of our daily intakes.

It’s no secret that processed food and fast foods pack a wallop of sodium per serving. An entire new segment of the food industry –low sodium and salt-free products–was born a number of years ago thanks to the work of groups like The Center for Science in the Public Interest. who brought to light the hidden sodium in our convenience foods.

The more convenience foods, packaged foods, and take-out meals you consume the more likely you are getting more than the recommended amount of sodium per day;1500 to 2300 milligrams. It’s easy to consume upwards of 3,500 milligrams because salt is used everywhere: in bread, processed cheese, happy meals and Lean Cuisine, tomato sauce, lunch at Panera — even cereal has sodium.

Tip: Chicken is the worst offender in the fast-food world for sodium content.

Due to the brilliant scientists on staff at the major food manufacturers, more salt than you could ever add by hand is neatly woven in with other flavors — sugar, for one — so foods stay fresh longer and make little addicts of your taste buds. If you ever want the inside scoop on how nefarious this science experiment is, please read The End Of Overeating by Dr. David. A. Kessler. It is full of mind-blowing evidence of how precise the science is in getting us to adapt to ever-increasing salty and sweet tastes.

We want to eat more which means we have to purchase more.

But I digress.

But does a diet high in added sodium compromise heart and kidney health?

Dr. Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac., is a renowned expert, leading clinician, and top educator in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health disagrees. In his article Shaking Up The Salt Myth, (1 in his series of 3 on salt) he cites studies reported in respected medical organizations like The American Journal Of Hypertension, showing that

people on low-salt diets developed higher plasma levels of renin, cholesterol, and triglycerides. The authors concluded that the slight reduction in blood pressure was overshadowed by these antagonistic effects, and that sodium restriction may have net negative effects at a population level.

In addition, low sodium intake is associated with poor outcomes in Type 2 diabetes. A 2011 study study showed people with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to die prematurely on a low-salt diet, due to higher all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

Clearly, there is truth on both sides because every human has a different response to what we put in out guts.

What’s the alternative?

Sea salt.

It retains more nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium. True you are getting a minute amount from a sprinkle of salt but the flavor is richer. Compared to what you now know goes into producing table salt…

Ask anyone on a Dr. recommended, salt-restricted diet and they’ll tell you how bland the foods taste. I’m not suggesting anyone ignore his or her doctor’s recommendation, but, if you prepare healthy foods, in a way that keeps them healthy — steamed, broiled, pan-seared, not fried — and you sprinkle on some small chunks of let’s say, Cypress Black Flake sea salt, I’ll bet your blood pressure will not increase. If you eat mostly cooked foods, you stand to benefit from some sea salt.

Sea salt contains necessary minerals, enhances the flavor of foods, and is not going to put anyone in an early grave.

When using sea salts, add them to your foods as they come out of the pan.  This will preserve the mineral content, and the odd grain of sea tasting salt on a bite of food is a cool experience.

Don’t forget, one of the reasons you like and might crave salt is because your body needs it.

One other thing to remember is the 80-20 rule when it comes to convenience foods. Make 80% of your meals and snacks from fresh, whole foods, and spend your 20% on your favorite splurges. You’ll be living in the safe zone of healthy habits no matter what new findings come to light.