Health Benefits (And Risks) of Salt

Last Update: December 8, 2023

It adds a perfect crust to a grilled steak, a sprinkle of flavor on top of popcorn, and even subtly enhances the sweetness of chocolate chip cookies. Salt is the one ingredient that is an essential in nearly every dish you could dream up, but it’s also often misunderstood. 

Is salt good for you? How much salt is too much salt? Where, exactly, does salt even come from? Here, we’ll explore some of the most common benefits (and risks!) of sodium, plus some tips for using different types of salt in your cooking.  

What Is Salt? 

Salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), is a mineral compound that is often used as a seasoning in cooking. It’s made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. 

Naturally occurring salt is called halite, or rock salt. Rock salt forms when saline water evaporates in partially enclosed rock basins, resulting in large evaporite deposits. Most table salt and other salts you use when cooking consist of fine-grained, pure, ground rock salt. In the case of sea salts, the salt is sourced from—you guessed it!—evaporated sea water. 

Health Benefits of Salt 

Though it sometimes gets a bad rap, salt is essential for human and animal health. It helps the body perform many important functions, including by supporting the following: 

  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Balancing bodily fluids 
  • Carrying nutrients to cells
  • Supporting nerve impulse transfer
  • Secreting gastric acid for digestion
  • Maintaining electrolyte balance

Health Risks of Eating Too Much Salt 

On the other hand, consuming too much salt can have a detrimental effect on your health. Consuming too much salt can lead to increased risk for these conditions:  

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure 
  • Stroke 
  • Calcium loss (particularly in bones)
  • Certain cancers 

How Much Salt Do You Need in a Day? 

The amount of salt (often called sodium) you should consume in a day varies from person to person. You should always consult your doctor to determine how much sodium intake you need. 

According to the FDA, the average American consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium each day. This is much higher than the healthy average daily sodium intake, which should be limited to 2,300 mg each day for adults and even lower for children. 

Foods High in Sodium

While some high-sodium foods taste salty, others contain hidden, high amounts of sodium not for flavor, but for other reasons: preserving food, curing meats, and improving texture, for example. 

Here are some foods that are notoriously high in sodium: 

  • Deli meats 
  • Processed foods
  • Potato chips and other snack foods 
  • Microwavable meals and other packaged dinners 
  • Certain cereals 
  • Frozen pizzas
  • Canned soups 

Because it’s not always obvious which foods are high in sodium, you should prioritize whole foods and always check the nutrition values on any packaged foods. 

Common Types of Salt 

Table Salt

Table salt, or iodized salt, is processed to remove impurities, but in the process, extra minerals are also removed. Iodine is added to help prevent iodine deficiency. 

Kosher Salt 

Originally, kosher salt was Certified Kosher, which means that it was certified for orthodox kosher compliance and adhered to Jewish dietary guidelines. Today, some salts are simply “kosher-style”, which means they’re made without additives and have a coarse texture. 

Sea Salt 

Sea salt is made from evaporated sea water dried in the sun. Sea salt can be fine, flaky, or coarse, and it’s usually more flavorful than table salt. 

Himalayan Pink Salt 

Himalayan salt is mined from the Himalayan Mountains in Pakistan, and it contains beneficial minerals like copper, potassium, and magnesium. The pink color comes from the iron oxide in the mine where it’s collected. 

Tips for Cooking With Salt 

Aside from flavoring your food, there are many other ways you can use salt to improve your cooking. Here are a few expert tips for cooking with salt: 

  • Add a generous pinch of salt to pasta water to help flavor your pasta and prevent the noodles from sticking together. 
  • Add salt to boiling water when poaching an egg to help keep the egg whites intact. 
  • Soak nuts in saltwater for a few hours before peeling to help remove the shells more easily. 
  • Sprinkle salt over a salad to help prevent the greens from wilting. 
  • Wash spinach, kale, and other leafy greens in saltwater for a more thorough cleaning. 
  • After draining, sprinkle salt over boiled potatoes to help get rid of the excess moisture. 

Read More: 

A Home Cook’s Guide to Salts

Kosher Salt vs. Sea Salt: What’s the Difference?

Salt Decoder: 11 Different Kinds For Your Kitchen

This article is related to:

Healthy Living

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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