Like our planet, we are seven tenths water - that is salty water.

Sodium chloride is the most misunderstood chemical in the body.

Take what you read about salt on the internet with a big pinch of salt!

"Pass the salt, please". White poison, they call it? Salt is easy to blame as a cause for high blood pressure, obesity, water retention, acidity and so on. So we are repeatedly told by the "experts" to cut down on salt and this can lead to serious health problems. The latest research proves that low sodium diets aggravate insulin resistance and increase systemic acidity. Low sodium levels also affect the performance of our stress hormones and can result in depression, fatigue and a delayed reaction time to nerve impulses. Excessive salt deprivation actually causes water retention and oedema. To conserve the dwindling sodium reserves less urine is produced. (Normally excessive sodium is excreted by the kidneys.)  Just think of that - getting all puffy and swollen due to too little and not too much salt! 

We need sodium but also the correct ratio of potassium to stay healthy

There is little point in shutting out our primary source of sodium (salt) without getting to grips with the controlling mechanisms that govern the uptake and excretion of sodium. Sodium-deprived patients with heart insufficiency  have an increased risk of mortality and yet they are often forbidden to use salt. Anybody who is familiar with Addison's disease will know that when excessive stress causes the adrenal glands to malfunction the body expels sodium at an alarming rate. These patients tend to retain all their potassium and so they are better off with plain old sodium chloride. In emergencies, 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a cup of water can help them to revive. Conversely, if somebody with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) needs a quick fix when they feel weak and wobbly, a solution of potassium chloride is used. 

Types of saltCredit: Sue Visser

A lack of sodium can lead to serious health complications

Yet still we hear of doctors who don't even add salt to their food! Ironically a saline drip is used to help patients to survive during surgery or from serious accidents. So tell me, Doctor - what is in that drip? Sodium chloride and it has to be 100% pure. The same applies to any saline solution that is used for contact lenses, nasal sprays and so on. (In this case, "natural salt" that may be contaminated with toxins, arsenic, mercury and all manner of decaying organic material including dead seals and bird poo is not the best option. So keep a little sterile sodium chloride in your first aid kit - especially if iodine has been added to it.)

Salt used for foodCredit: Sue Visser

However, any type of salt will help to rectify a life-threatening sodium deficiency. To the degree that sodium is restricted the hormonal balance between renin and aldosterone is challenged. Unusually high amounts aldosterone are released. Sodium and potassium are balanced by this hormone. If there is not enough sodium to keep the potassium ratio in balance, both potassium and magnesium are then excreted. As anybody knows, a loss of these electrolytes makes the blood acidic. Oxidative stress sets in. Muscles cramp up, fingers go numb and up goes the blood pressure! This is scary and enough and a good reason to pass the salt.


Double blind random placebo controlled studies show that a sodium restricted diet in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes resulted in an increase in insulin resistance. Even after a few days, the effects of not eating salt manifested as an average increase of 12% in terms of upping their insulin resistance. Even in normal people this was the case. Cut out the salt and up goes the potential for insulin resistance associated with syndrome X and type 2 diabetes. Another downer is that we need sodium bicarbonate to neutralize acidity. Our body has a way of recycling this antacid and only allows the kidneys to excrete what is not needed. So then sodium will be retained if there is a shortfall of potassium. We are constantly reminded that our best sources of potassium are from vegetables. Other valuable sources include apple cider vinegar, molasses and cream or tartar from the grocery store. So to prevent high levels of sodium rather increase the levels of potassium and allow your body to flush out what you don't need. We don't have to ask why urine or sweat tastes salty! We excrete a lot of sodium potassium, calcium and magnesium. They ALL need to be replaced and kept in balance.

The importance of chloride in salt. Potassium chloride is an alternative.

Take a look at the chemistry of sodium chloride, better known as table salt. It is a combination of two elements that produce a chemically neutral substance. (It is thus not correct to say that salt makes us acidic, by the way.) Positively charged sodium meets the negatively charged hydrochloric acid halfway at a pH of 7. It is only in the form of a salt such as sodium chloride or potassium chloride (called salt substitute)  that we can safely ingest the chloride we need for producing stomach acid. Our stomach acid needs to be topped up from time to time. This is important because we need intense acidity (pH 2)to digest complex proteins and fats with enzymes that require an environment that has a very low pH. Germs and especially the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers are kept in check if you keep up your stomach acid intensity. Iodine from salt and other food sources is also used to zap bacteria and thus prevent food poisoning. 

Another chemical is made when sodium splits off from the salt and becomes bicarbonate of soda after combining with carbon dioxide. The pancreas uses a solution of bicarbonate of soda to neutralize the acidic contents of the stomach before they are released into the small intestine. In the case of potassium chloride, the potassium is used to keep the sodium in balance. So ideally, we need to use forms of salt that include both potassium and sodium.

How a deficiency of salt affects heartburn - a double whammy!

When people complain of heartburn they are deficient in chloride and have weak stomach acid. The food is not properly digested and more and more acid is excreted - but it is not intense enough and so it spills up the oesophagus and causes a burning sensation. They take bicarbonate of soda to douse the fiery stomach acid, making it even weaker. At best, it will help to shoo the food down into the small intestine. This is why is is not a good idea to take a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda with water before a meal. (It is funny that people are terrified of high sodium levels from salt, yet they take antacids like bicarbonate of soda!) So if you take salt, you will help the production of both stomach acid as well as bicarbonate of soda. The body is quite capable of sorting out the chemistry.

Himalayan saltCredit: Sue Visser

Himalayan Salt caused a drop in blood pressure?

I love my collection of natural salts and prefer the taste of them and appreciate the extra trace elements and minerals they provide. I usually recommend Himalayan or sea salt in my recipes. In South Africa we have lovely natural salts and the Kalahari salt is a good option because it comes from an inland source. What was once prehistoric ocean bed has become an integral part of the desert landscape.

The salt is ideally pure and rich in minerals as is Himalayan salt. (Although there are stories about Pakistani salt and the poor hygiene habits of the salt workers.) Anyway, I received a letter from a young man who complained that since he had been using Himalayan salt his blood pressure was too low! He wanted to know if he should stop using the salt? I find it hard to believe that the "natural " salts have a sodium chloride level as high as 97 % - 98 %. So evidently the extra elements , even if they include arsenic make a big difference. Not all of them contain enough iodine, however. 

What about iodine and other salt additives?

For most of the table salt antagonists the worst crime of all is to add a free-flowing agent to a sterile table salt. Magnesium carbonate is generally used. The same stuff they add to calcium supplements, in other words. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzyme-based activities on a daily basis, so yes please! I often add a little magnesium carbonate to our salt shaker because we live next to the coast where the air is damp. It also makes the salt appear whiter and makes it more visible when shaken onto food. This helps people to see it better and I can then nag my husband to curtail his salt shaker reflex at every meal. He grew up in the tropics where they were even given salt tablets to take in order to protect their valuable electrolytes. He seems to thrive on large quantities of salt! Some people always add salt to food without first tasting it because it has become a habit. A good chef would regard this as an insult because seasoning is a matter of taste. We have salt receptors on our tongues for a good reason. Sometimes more salt will guarantee that the food is properly digested. (Now that we know about stomach acid and bicarbonate of soda - cheaper than using antacids!)

Desert saltCredit: Sue Visser

Iodated salt has been introduced to the market place for a good reason and we know about how this minute amount can help to prevent thyroid disorders such as goitre. But few of us know that hydrochloric acid is made by the stomach's parietal cells and iodine is also required for this. So by using iodated salt we are taking good care of our digestion. Iodine is a valuable substance that also is used to destroy harmful bacteria we may swallow. There are very rare cases of iodine sensitivity but some people are suspicious of iodine at the best of times. Oryx Desert salt from the Kalahari does not contain iodine, should that be the case. Most of our sea salts contain a small trace of iodine so it is a matter of choice. With a healthy output of strong and intense stomach acid we can ward off infections, prevent stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, have excellent digestion and hence receive nourishment from food. 

So by now I hope you know that boring old sodium chloride is OK to ingest. It is not a deadly toxin and makes food as medicine go down well!

Sodium chlorideCredit: Sue Visser

Here you can see the characteristic structure of sodium chloride. These are the pyramid shapes of the coarse salt crystals from MALDON sea salt. It is hard to get away from the fact that all salt is mainly sodium chloride and is beneficial to man in the correct context.