You have probably heard a lot about the gourmet salt craze or the amazing Himalayan pink salt, touted to offer myriad health benefits.
Not only is pink salt hailed as a better version of salt, with more minerals and better nutrition than table salt, but there have been claims that it even has therapeutic properties too.
Some of the claims are that it can help with the regulation of blood sugar, aid sleep, reduce the appearance of ageing, boost libido and promote kidney and gallbladder health. Health spas promise that pink salt will give you an instant detox.
Himalayan salt is a rock salt with a pink or orange colour that comes from near the Himalayas, often in Pakistan. Apart from its nutritional benefits, there is also a wide belief that it is one of the purest salts available, with 84 minerals and trace elements which include calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron.
Gerhard Martin, executive director of Cape Foods, a supplier of Himalayan salt since 2010, said its popularity is on the rise in South Africa: “You now have a range of grinders, shakers and refillable pouches readily available, not only in health shops, but also in regular supermarkets. The salt is imported from Pakistan, but cleaned and packed in South Africa."
But how healthy is Himalayan pink salt – is it really better than table salt?
Nutritionists and dietitians said that although Himalayan pink salt had more minerals, they warned that its “health benefits” could result in people overusing salt in an effort to increase their magnesium calcium or iron content. Overconsumption of salt resulted in health risks such as hypertension or strokes.
Gabriel Eksteen, a dietitian from Heart and Stroke Foundation, said that apart from the taste, which was different from table salt, the minerals in pink salt were so negligible that they comprised just 2% of the total volume of salt. Pink salt also didn’t have iodine benefits as it was not iodated, as other commercial salt.
“Pink salts are still 98% sodium chloride, commonly known salt. The amounts of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium present in pink salt are so minute that they are extremely unlikely to affect health.
"Food sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy are infinitely better sources. As far as I am aware, there are no scientific studies comparing the health benefits of using pink salt and normal salt,” he said.
While health trends had resulted in people preferring unprocessed and iodine-free salt, Eksteen said lack of iodine could result in deficiency and problems with thyroid.
With most foods already containing salt, Eksteen cautioned that while pink salt was harmless, “the supposed health benefits can potentially lead to a false sense that it is a healthy food and thereby lead to more liberal use. Sodium chloride in excess is harmful".
Tabitha Hume, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (Adsa), also raised concerns about the possible overconsumption of this “healthy salt, as many believed it had lower salt content.
While more natural foodstuffs are better than processed counterparts, “the actual health benefits in this case have probably been inflated with extrapolation and pseudoscience”, said Hume.
“The proportion of this increased sodium intake far outweighs the amount by which Himalayan salt is beneficial. This is a common error in nutrition… the minerals in Himalayan sea salt are in too small a quantity to contribute to health.
"What’s more, if one were to increase the amounts of this salt to actually contribute to their healthful benefits, the sodium content that would be consumed would be significantly above recommended intakes,” she said.
Hume said overconsumption of salt not only resulted in water retention, but it increased the total volume of blood, which resulted in high blood pressure.
“High blood pressure predisposes us to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular incidents. A diet high in sodium leads to one becoming accustomed to strong-flavoured food which give a bigger dopamine ‘hit’,” she said.
Martin also conceded the nutritionists' points, saying that although his company distributed the salt and many people made medicinal claims about Himalayan pink salt, these were "not medically proven”. He added that the superior taste of Himalayan salts contributed to its popularity.
“As opposed to the mass-produced refined salt that one finds so often on supermarket shelves – unrefined mineral salt, such as Himalayan salt, not only retains essential minerals needed by the body, but is also additive-free.
"The lack of chemicals added to the salt and the shortened processing time results in a far gentler taste profile that enhances flavour,” he said.
Compared to a good quality sea salt, Martin conceded that Himalayan salt offered very little benefits, apart from looking good.
But pink salt is very pretty at a dinner party, so why on earth not use it? Food is supposed to be a delight, after all!