Staple vs. frivolity, is what most people think when it comes to sea salt.  Something you can use optionally, if you want to be different or cool.  Not at all.  The function of natural, unrefined salt in the body so eclipses regular table salt (NaCl) that you could write a book about it.  And somebody did -- David Brownstein, MD with Salt Your Way to Health.  Why would this doctor go against conventional medical advice, which is to go easy on salt?  Because table salt and natural salt are very different things ...

Salt is vital to life, a fact that has not been lost on people throughout the ages.  It was so valued that salt bars were used as currency, wars were fought because of salt, and it remains the root of our word "salary."  Salt was used for centuries to heal infections and, before refrigeration, to preserve cure many kinds of food. Without salt as a food-supply preservative, armies could not sustain themselves. The Civil War was lost by the South in part because of damage (by the North) to its salt facilities. Cities were built on top of salt mines, and salt continues to be used in many different industries.

Sea salt, Dead Sea
Salt on the Dead Sea

Salt is found in the sea and in veins or deposits in the earth.  In fact, ocean water is salty due to rivers having carried and deposited minerals from the land into the sea for many thousands of years.  Sea salt, obtained by evaporating ocean water by way of the sun and wind, is one form of natural mineralized salt.  The crystals that remain contain not only sodium and chloride, but a vast range of additional minerals.  Our bodies were designed to use natural salt and its accompanying range of more than 80 important minerals necessary for properly functioning metabolism.

Sea salt crystalsProcessed or refined salt, in contrast, is treated to remove these vital minerals, which are considered "impurities."  The everyday salt you buy at your supermarket has been subjected to heat, compression and chemical bleaching to make it snow white and free-flowing.  Though mined from the earth, it is entirely stripped of its original richness, reduced to two elements only -- sodium and chloride.  Refined salt is moisture free, which may make housewives happy.  But "moisture-free" actually means the removal of tiny pockets in the crystals that contain a brine enormously rich in concentrated magnesium and potassium -- two minerals that play a role in hundreds of chemical reactions occurring in the body.  Sodium chloride alone is like having two colors in your paint box ... how much can you do with them?

Water and salt work in tandem in the body.  Together they transport nutrients and remove waste.  Sodium regulates your body's internal electricity.  If sodium levels are low or high, brain and nervous-system function will be affected.  Nerve impulse conduction also depends on magnesium, calcium and potassium -- all found in unrefined salt and not in table salt.  Though bottled water has made its way into everyone's office, gym bag and car, we remain big drinkers of coffee, alcohol, sodas and juice, which deplete us of water rather than replenishing it due.  Overall, Americans are dehydrated -- short on water, our most important nourisher.

human bodyThere are two "oceans" in the body.  The extracellular ocean is outside the cells, and in it swim the blood cells and their cargo of vitamins and minerals.  The intracellular ocean is within the cells, containing the mitochondria, which are tiny organelles that make the cell's energy or food.  Waste products formed by this process are put into the extracellular ocean, to be removed by way of our kidneys.  Sodium is needed by the extracellular ocean; potassium is needed in the intracellular ocean.  Table salt has no potassium.  The balance of the body's internal oceans is thus not met.  Too much sodium outside the cells will pull water from within the cells, creating dehydration and a build-up of waste in the cell that produces acidosis.  All this can lead to cell death, degeneration (illness), or cancer.

The lesson: Your cells need minerals.  Says Dr. Brownstein: "I firmly believe that salt and water form the foundation for any healthy treatment plan. All functions of the body, including the immune system, hormonal system, nervous system and the cardiovascular system depend on adequate water and salt intake for optimal functioning.  My clinical experience has clearly shown that refined salt is not a healthful substance for the body and its continued use will lead to the onset of chronic illness."

Conventional "healthy diet" advice steers us away from salt.  People proudly say, "I never salt my food."  But they are probably eating lots of commercially made food (who cooks these days?) which already contains salt -- and refined salt at that.  Doctors tell us salt elevates blood pressure, and that notion has solidly lodged itself in the public mind.  The fact is that low-salt diets can cause hyponatremia (too little sodium), adversely affecting the body's insulin and LDL cholesterol.  As salt intake has gone down in the US in recent decades, there has not been an accompanying reduction in blood-pressure levels.  It turns out that low mineral intake is related to elevated blood pressure -- a problem that is resolved when adding unrefined salt to the diet balances us out.  Once again, natural unrefined salt (whether it comes from the sea or the earth) supplies the body with the complex of nutrients it needs to function properly.

Bolivian rose salt
Bolivian rose salt

Natural unrefined salt is now available in many food stores.  It can be sea salt (always look for unrefined or minimally processed) or mountain salt (e.g., pink Himalayan or Redmond).  Some is in chunky crystals which can be used in cooking but are harder to sprinkle evenly on food.  Some are pre-ground to the consistency of what is called "finish" salt, eliminating the need for a hand-held grinder.  Celtic salt from France is made in clay beds, giving it a gray color; some salts are pink with red flecks, and others are pure sun-bleached white.  Check out for a huge selection.