Is Sea Salt Healthier Than Table Salt? [Myth Busting]

There’s a nice growing business of boutique salts being sold at Whole Foods Market and other high end stores. They come in different colors and granule sizes. They look really good on display.

But are celebrity sea salts any healthier than their lowly brethren, table salts?

According to a recent survey by the American Heart Association:

Sixty-one percent of respondents incorrectly agreed that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. Kosher salt and most sea salt are chemically the same as table salt (40 percent sodium), and they count the same toward total sodium consumption. Read more…

What you need to know:

Salt is salt. Sodium (Na, 40%) and Chlorine (Cl, 60%).

Sodium is the problem. We are consuming way too much of it. The excess sodium in our diet leads to hypertension, high blood pressure, and ultimately heart disease.

Sea salt comes from the sea, table salt is mined from places that used to be oceans and dried up millions of years ago.

Sea salt does contain traces of additional minerals (0.01% of things like magnesium) but they do not lessen the impact of the sodium consumption.

Even if the minerals in a given sea salt are important nutrients for the body, why take them with all the added salt? Why not from other naturally occurring sources in food?

What to do at the supermarket:

If you want to server pretty sea salt during a meal, go for it. But it is not healthier.

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  • Alejolizama

    Good article, thanks…

  • Notsowisewoman

    …and keep in mind most commercially-prepared table salts, even the ones we think are healthy, are still processed heavily and use dextrose as an ingredient. i’ll use dirty salt

  • Dwmatty

    An advertising gimmick to make consumers think the product is healthier. Wendy’s is doing it right now with their “sea salt” fries. Good article.

  • Dwmatty

    An advertising gimmick to make consumers think the product is healthier. Wendy’s is doing it right now with their “sea salt” fries. Good article.

  • Foodie, Formerly Fat

    Salt (or sodium) itself is not “unhealthy” it is how we consume it that is the problem. There is a big difference between eating high amounts of processed foods that contain large amounts of the chemical added to them versus sprinkling a pinch of salt onto your steamed broccoli.

    Additionally, drinking sufficient amounts of water each day will counteract many of the negative effects of sodium because the water flushes it out of your system. This isn’t the case for any beverages but it is true for water.

    For those of us who cook with whole foods, avoid processed foods as much as possible, and drink water (exclusively) and in proper quantities the sprinkling of a little salt while cooking isn’t going to be “unhealthy”.

  • Dalai Lina

    I’m going to still use salt, so why not get the added benefit of some minerals?!

  • Dez

    Sea salt has more flavor due to those trace minerals, which some claim causes them to use less salt total.

    Also, the iodine in table salt is added, so if you have issues with people bleaching nutrients from your food and re-adding them again later, you might be inclined to choose sea salt, which has the iodine naturally.

    Via Mayo Clinic:

  • Guest

    The best thing to use is Himilayan Crystal (Rock) Salt…look it up.

  • El Baugher

    Sea salt IS healthier. Table salt has anti-caking agents in it which are poisonous. If it’s processed, stay the hell away from it….

  • Daria

    I felt like my food just tasted better once I switched to kosher salt and I haven’t looked back. I like the larger grains, feeling it in my fingers gives me a better idea of how much I’m really adding. I tried sea salt as well, but which the much larger grains of sea salt I tended to over season the food.

  • Paul

    The take home for me is this:
    a) eat out less since you can’t control food that others have prepared.
    b) many of us have been conditioned to believe that salty is tasty.
    c) simply get used to not adding salt to most foods while cooking and don’t put a salt shaker on the table.

  • Chris

    Sea salt or course salt serves other purposes in cooking that table salt cannot provide. Searing is much better done with sea salt than table salt that immediately dissolves on whatever you put it on.

  • Lisa

    “We are consuming way too much of it.” Speak for yourself…

  • Kmeirrac

    Table salt is refined salt, which contains about 97% to 99% sodium chloride.

  • Jim Cooper

    This was covered in detail this week by Harold McGee in the NY Times. He also asked whether there was much difference in taste. According to taste tests at the Culinary Institue, in most cases, you can’t tell the difference.

  • FleurDeSel

    Your an idiot and this article proves it. Do you not season your food when you cook it? Salt and pepper is generally considered part of basic cooking techniques and I can pretty much guarantee you that people paying $20/lb for Fleur de Sel aren’t sitting there eating it with a spoon. If anything they’re using less.

  • Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

    I put a little blurb about the American Heart Association and that issue here on my blog:

  • Penny0314

    Hypertension and high blood pressure are the same thing!! Only pulmonary hypertension is in a class by itself, and if you have PAH, your problems are far greater than just sodium.

  • FrugalArugula

    I have to weigh in on this one, as a total salt fiend.

    I’ve found with the various sea salts, I’m using less because of how I add them. They also have unique flavors. It’s like picking an olive oil, or any oil. All oils have essentially the same fat content, but you pick which one you want based on its flavor.

    Some salts are crisp and sharp, some are round and soft. And then there are smoked salts and Hawaiian volcanic salts which are super soft and taste really delicate. Fleur de sel salts go better with chocolates. Gray french celtic sea salts seem to be excellent for cooking and better on the wallet.

    Personally I’d rather go with a salt that has some minerals, isn’t bleached, and maybe that I am regulated by cost for how much I use. So in turn, maybe I do use less because I have to think about my use. I find that I’ll use some in the beginning of the cooking process, maybe to sear and then use the finishing salts at the end so they can do their job and my guests can enjoy the beauty of the colors as well.

    Salt enhances flavor and maybe we’re having too much, but I refuse to believe that it’s what we’re putting on our food (at our tables) and entirely believe it’s the quantities that are being injected to the processed foods (same with sugar). If you can’t cook with fresh veggies, meats, go with no salt added. Maybe I’m wrong… but I really doubt it.

  • Mauisurfer1961

    You left out one of the major reasons for using real sea salt, it’s that it doesn’t contain Yellow Prussiate of Soda, Na4Fe(CN)6·10H2O which many processed table salts do. It is an anti-caking agent and despite the FDA’s claim it is inert, it has cyanide in it, uh,, no thanks. And since when is the American Heart Association a credible source for nutrition information, seriously?? They sold out to the food industry a long time ago.

    • Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

      Where is the proof that there is detectable amount of cyanide in regular salt and who do you consider a reliable source for nutrition?

    • Guest

      First, the dose makes the poison. You will be dead of dehydration from NaCl before you can eat enough table salt to fill any ill effects of prussiate.
      Second, cyanide isn’t all the same. Cyanide is a compound who contains the CN-group. CN has a great tendency to form stable compounds with transition metals such as iron. So that’s what makes certain cyanide compounds, such as potassium cyanide or hydrogen cyanide, so toxic. When it gets into the body and cells, it attaches strongly to iron-containing proteins which are vital for cellular respiration. Basically, by making these iron-proteins non-functional, cells “suffocate”.
      Now, in prussiate, CN is in a stable complex with iron already, and it will take some chemical effort for the CN to leave from that stable configuration.

      Prussiate is therefore, in the doses you use table salt, non-toxic.
      For example, LD50 of prussiate on rats is around 1600-3000 mg / kg.
      Compare that to NaCl, main constituent of salt, which is around 3000 mg /kg.
      While lethal potassium cyanide has as little as 10 mg / kg.

  • Nuitgoddess

    Trace minerals ARE important for health. Implying that they are not is irresponsible.