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Just a pinch and not more

  • Lounge examines the fine balance of salt that the human body needs
  • Follow these unique salt recipes and expert advise to power up

Himalayan pink salt is good but it is often adulterated.
Himalayan pink salt is good but it is often adulterated. (Photo: Alamy)

The World Athletics Championships in Doha (27 September-6 October) saw many firsts. The games were held at the Khalid International Stadium, an open-air structure that was miraculously air-conditioned. But though almost all the events took place within this structure, the marathon runners had to traverse the 7km course outside the stadium for six laps. The race started 1 minute before midnight, when the temperature had cooled to a relatively bearable 32 degrees Celsius. While it was marketed as the first midnight marathon, this was done for the health and safety of the athletes, to protect them from the loss of a precious mineral: salt.

Salt recipes
Salt recipes

Just a few grains

Salt has got a rap over the years, and with good reason. Not because it is bad, but because we consume far more than the required amount. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5g a day, which is less than a teaspoon. Shonali Sabherwal, Mumbai-based macrobiotic nutritionist, chef and author of The Detox Diet, says we actually need just a pinch. Lovneet Batra, a Delhi-based sports nutritionist who has consulted with Indian teams for the Commonwealth Games, says the quantity shouldn’t exceed more than a teaspoon every day. Still, it is common to have several teaspoons on a daily basis.

“You will be surprised to know that 70% of your salt consumption isn’t even from meals—you get it from bakery goods, cured meats, in fact any packaged food contains salt as it is the best preservative," says Batra.

Yet salt is absolutely essential for humans. “Whether it is muscle contraction or relaxation, or the communication between two neurons, salt is the prime electrolyte for this function," explains Batra. If sodium levels drop drastically, she says, it can be fatal. But when taken in excessive quantities, it increases water retention in the body, in turn leading to high blood pressure. “If you have high BP, then you have to go even lower in terms of salt consumption; your upper limit will be half a teaspoon," says Batra.

Toxic Load

Like every other food these days, salt too isn’t immune to adulteration. “Most of us use commercial salt, which is full of sodium chloride, stripped of minerals and packed with anti-caking ingredients to ensure the salt flows easily," says Sabherwal. She adds that commercial salt isn’t edible any more. “It is like dairy—thoroughly contaminated."

Naturally, this has led to people looking for healthier, more natural versions. “In macrobiotics, we look at sea salt because the minerals are retained and it is less processed, " says Sabherwal.

The medicinal system of Ayurveda, however, has a different take on it.

“There are mainly five varieties of salt in Ayurveda," says Abhijit Jinde, a Pune-based Ayurvedic physician. “Out of these five, rock/Himalayan pink salt or saindha namak is the best, while sea salt is supposed to be bad for the system." Jinde explains that according to Ayurveda, sea salt produces a lot of kapha (earth and water elements) and pitta (fire element) in the body, which leads to water retention. He says it leads to too much secretion in the system, which causes water imbalance, in turn leading to conditions such as high blood pressure. “Plus, it is excessively heating."

But he warns of the adulteration in pink salt: “Black salt becomes pink after grinding but rock salt is pink in crystals and white when ground." So if your Himalayan salt is too pink, it could be black salt.

“Ayurveda doesn’t encourage adding salt over food," says Jinde. “The cooking process helps it make the food more digestible, therefore adding it on top after cooking won’t enhance the digestibility of food—it is just like eating salt without any benefits."

The Iodine Connection

Even though natural salt is gaining popularity, many people still stick to the table variety because it is fortified with iodine. “You need 150 micrograms of iodine a month which is half to three-fourths a tablespoon of commercial salt iodine," says Sabherwal. She says you can choose iodine-fortified pink salt or get it from sea vegetables, which have a high concentration of iodine. “You can also take spirulina for iodine—start with half a teaspoon and then a full teaspoon mixed in a glass of water every day."

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