toxic elements in gourmet salt

Are the amounts of toxic metals in gourmet salts dangerous?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

The amount of toxic elements in gourmet salts is significantly below the maximum tolerable safe level of these elements and therefore does not present any health danger. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

Gourmet salts such as the popular Himalayan pink salt contain a number of trace elements, which include essential minerals and toxic metals. While salt manufacturers make many health claims related to the abundance of minerals in those expensive products, the amount of toxic elements is usually not mentioned.

In fact, neither of these trace elements, whether toxic metals or essential minerals (read more..), are present in the gourmet salts in significant amounts.

The table below shows a range of the highest in trace elements of gourmet salts and the tolerable maximum limits of these toxins for comparison.

Also Listed is “table salt” information. Table salt is usually stripped from most trace elements during processing. Aluminium is often added in the form of aluminosilicate. (read more..)

Maximum amounts of toxic elements found in various gourmet salts

Toxic elementsArsenicCadmiumChromiumMercuryNickelLeadThalliumVanadium
Table saltn/dn/d2n/d20.440.84n/d
Salts most abundant of specific element.Kala Namak Black Mineral SaltHimalayan Pink Fine Mineral SaltAlaea Hawaiian Sea SaltKala Namak Black Mineral SaltHimalayan Pink Fine Mineral SaltSel Gris De GuerandeFumee de Sel Chardonnay Oak Smoked SaltKala Namak Black Mineral Salt
Maximum of any salt (mcg/g)0.10.0932.60.183.61.31.61.9
Tolerable rate of toxic elements for adults as per various reommendations3 mcg/kg of body weight / week (1)World Health Organization (WHO). Exposure to arsenic: a major public health concern. Available here.7 mcg/kg of body weight / week (2)Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives. Available here.150mcg/kg of body weight / week (3)Committee on toxicity of chemicals in food consumer products and the environment. 2006 UK Total Diet Study of Metals and other Elements. Available here.1.6mcg/kg of body weight / day (4)Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives. Available here.1,000mcg per adult / day (5)Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc Institite of Medicine June 19, 2002. Available here.50mcg/kg of body weight / week (6)Rahde AF. Lead, inorganic. 1994 Available here.Upper limit not available.1,800mcg per adult / day (7)Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc Institite of Medicine June 19, 2002. Available here.
How many grams of salt an adult of 75kg would have to consume daily to reach the maximum safe level of this element?3218064,32695277412n/a947
NOTE ON THALLIUM
Although there are currently no specific safety guidelines for intake of Thallium, the International Programme on Chemical Safety Task Group has estimated that dietary thallium of approximately 11 mcg/day is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. I have therefore set a reference intake of 11mcg/day as a daily reference intake for the above table (not an upper safe limit since it is not known. (8)COMMITTEE ON TOXICITY OF CHEMICALS IN FOOD, CONSUMER PRODUCTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT. 2006 UK Total Diet Study of Metals and other Elements. Available here.
Note: as an example that population in UK intakes about 0.7-0.8 µg/day from the diet.
In the case of Thallium, 1 gram of the most thallium abundant salt contains 1.6mcg of this element. This would represent only about 7% of what is known as a daily safe intake.

The row “Maximum amount (mcg) per gram of salt” shows the maximum amount of each toxic element found in one gram of any salt.

Please note the row with the maximum tolerable rate of toxic elements for adults. Some recommendations are shown as mcg/kg of body weight per week and some as mcg of body weight per day. These depend on the how the recommendations are formulated for each specific element.

The last row in this table shows an example of how much a 75kg person would have to consume of a particular salt to reach the toxic level of each element. This calculation only takes into consideration the intake of salt. Food and water also contribute to the daily intake of these elements. In the table, however, it is shown that the amount of toxic metals in gourmet salt is significantly below the upper safe level, even in the most mineral abundant salts.

Gourmet salt is usually consumed by sprinkling it on our food at the table or sometimes in cooking. It is not added to processed foods. The amount of salt that we consume at the table whether it is either table salt or gourmet salt is about 1 gram per day. (For additional explanation, please see section “How much of table salt do we eat per day?” in the article “aluminium in table salt”)

Conclusion

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None of the salts contain amounts of toxic trace elements that may be detrimental to health. In fact the gourmet salts are not significantly different to table salt (read more..). To reach toxic levels of any of these elements we would have to consume amounts of salt that contain lethal quantities of sodium (400mg-1,200mg of sodium per kg of body weight). (read more..)

References   [ + ]

1. World Health Organization (WHO). Exposure to arsenic: a major public health concern. Available here.
2. Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives. Available here.
3. Committee on toxicity of chemicals in food consumer products and the environment. 2006 UK Total Diet Study of Metals and other Elements. Available here.
4. Joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives. Available here.
5. Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc Institite of Medicine June 19, 2002. Available here.
6. Rahde AF. Lead, inorganic. 1994 Available here.
7. Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc Institite of Medicine June 19, 2002. Available here.
8. COMMITTEE ON TOXICITY OF CHEMICALS IN FOOD, CONSUMER PRODUCTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT. 2006 UK Total Diet Study of Metals and other Elements. Available here.