Nutrition Myths
Are the amounts of toxic metals in gourmet salts dangerous?

SUMMARY

  • Himalayan salt has insignificant amounts of trace elements that include a combination of essential minerals, toxic and radioactive elements.
  • None of the popularly claimed health benefits attributed to the essential trace minerals of Himalayan salt have been scientifically proven.
  • These false and misleading health claims have enabled salt manufacturers to grossly overcharge consumers for an otherwise simple and inexpensive chemical sodium-chloride.
  • Besides sodium and chloride, the amounts of other electrolytes present in Himalayan salt are insufficient to have any effect on the water balance in the body.
  • The only proven health properties of Himalayan salt, and of any other salts, are related to sodium-chloride, a common ingredient in all salts.
  • The actual benefit of Himalayan salt is that it is unpolluted by humans (“organic”), which means that it doesn’t contain potentially hazardous microplastics. It also has no additives, such as aluminum, anti-caking agents or iodine usually added to table salt. However, all of these components are in insignificant amounts in other salts.
  • Choose Himalayan salt if you want to reduce your exposure to microplastics and aluminum or you don’t need iodine.
  • Otherwise, base your decision on your culinary preferences rather than focusing on the non-existent health benefits of Himalayan salt.
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Himalayan salt myths

The  exorbitant prices and growing popularity of Himalayan salt and other gourmet salts are mainly a result of strong advertising campaigns that promote a wide range of health benefits due the supposedly high trace mineral contents in these salts.

Most of these claims are not backed up by scientific studies and are simply false advertising in one of the largest nutrition related marketing scams in history.

Find out what is true about these claims and what is simply false advertising.

What is Himalayan salt and why it is sometimes called Sea Salt?

Himalayan salt is known under various names: Pink Himalayan salt, Himalayan sea salt, Himalayan rock salt and Himalayan crystal salt.

The salt found in the Himalayas contains the dried remnants of an ancient sea that once separated the Asian continent and an ancient island. (1) This is the reason why some sources refer to this salt as Himalayan sea salt.

The Himalayan salt mines are in Pakistan around the Punjab Province. There are several mines in this region. However, the largest is the Khewra Salt Mine where most of the Himalayan pink salt comes from. (2)

It is estimated that there are about 7 billion tons of salt deposits in the Khewra mines. The current production is 325.000 tons of Himalayan salt per year (3)

The color of Himalayan salt differs, depending on the mineral contamination. It may be transparent, white, pink or reddish. Most of the Himalayan salt commercially available is pink. This color comes from impurities – minerals such as chromium, iron or copper.

The purity level of the Himalayan rock salt is usually above 97%, so it doesn’t require purification. The more sodium chloride it contains, the purer the salt. (4)

However, there are some mines, such as Kohat (92.02% pure) and Kallar Kahar (84.15% pure), that produce salt which is not suitable for consumption without purifying it.

Due to strict regulations that don’t allow a purity level below 97%, all commercially available Himalayan salt products are safe for consumption.

MYTH 1 – BUSTED: Himalayan rock salt contains 84-88 essential trace elements

It is commonly claimed that Himalayan sea salt contains significant amounts of essential trace minerals and electrolytes (as much as 84-88 depending on the source) which are beneficial or even essential to health. Some sources even claim that these elements are in the same ratio as they are present in our body cells.

FACTS

While there are total of about 88 elements (depending on the source), only 23 of them are essential, of which only 12 are “essential trace elements”.

To make this concept clearer, I split the all of the elements detected in Himalayan salt into groups, according to their requirements and effects on the body:

  1. 61 trace elements that are non-essential or not known if essential out of which
    1. 37 are toxic or radioactive and
    2. 24 have unknown effects on the body
  2. 23 essential elements of which:
    1. 6 are major elements

      These elements are called “major”, since they make up about 99% of the human body. Major elements are required in much larger quantities than found in Himalayan Salt and any claims on their significance coming from salt makes no sense.

    2. 5 are minor elements

      Minor elements make up about 85% of human body. Two of these elements are sodium and chloride, which are the main components of salt with 97.41% based on dry matter.

      Minor elements (except for sodium and chloride) are, similarly to major elements, required in much larger quantities than found in Himalayan Salt.

    3. 12 trace elements

      The amount of 12 essential minerals, although required in smaller amounts than major and minor elements, is still not significant and salt should not be used as their dietary source.

  3. 4 “maybe” essential elements

More studies are needed to prove, if they are actually essential.

There may be some other elements in Himalayan Salt, but they are still not possible to detect with available technological methods.

To see the whole list of elements, either click this image or go to the table at the bottom of this article. The table splits elements into various categories depending on the importance in the body. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

Elements in Himalayan Salt

MAIN POINTS

  • Himalayan salt contains a total of 88 detectable elements
  • 86 elements are in trace amounts
  • Only two elements: sodium and chloride are in significant amounts
  • Only 23 elements are essential, however, only 12 of those are “trace elements”
  • Four elements are thought to be essential, but more studies are needed
  • 61 elements are non-essential – a mix of toxic, radioactive or of unknown effects

MYTH 2- BUSTED: Himalayan Salt contains significant amounts of trace electrolytes

Apart from sodium and chloride, salt also contains electrolytes, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

However, some sources claim that unrefined salts, such as Himalayan Rock Salt or Sea Salt, are a good source of these trace electrolytes, which are important in regulating the effects of sodium on water balance.

FACTS

The only electrolytes in significant amounts in Himalayan or any other gourmet salts are sodium and chloride.

Any other trace element in Himalayan salt that could serve as an electrolyte, is too scare to have a significant impact on your body fluid balance. (13)

MAIN POINTS

  • All food-grade salts have the same electrolyte properties due only to sodium and chloride .
  • Trace electrolytes in Himalayan salt are in insignificant amounts, contrary to what is claimed.

MYTH 3- BUSTED: Trace elements in Himalayan Salt have an alkaline effect on the body

Many online sources claim that the trace elements in Himalayan Salt regulate the body pH, creating a “healthy acid-to-alkaline ratio”.

FACTS

The alkaline balance theory and the alkaline diet are based on pseudoscience. It has been proven that the blood pH balance doesn’t change with diet. (read more..)

However, even if this theory had any merit, the amount of minerals in salt is just too negligible to have an impact.

MAIN POINTS

  • The acid-ash hypothesis is a myth
  • Even if the hypothesis was true, it would require more ash, than what is available in Himalayan salt to produce any effects.

MYTH 4 – BUSTED: Himalayan salt is healthier than other salts because it is lower in sodium

Some sources claim that the sodium content in Himalayan Rock Salt is lower than in purified salts and some sea salts and, therefore, it is healthier.

FACTS

Any product called “Salt”, whether Himalayan, sea or table salt, by law must have at least 97% of sodium chloride on a dry matter basis, with the exclusion of additives. (14, 15)

Commercially available Himalayan salt contains on average 98% of sodium, while refined table salt has above 99%.

This minute difference of sodium contents has essentially no impact whatsoever on the overall sodium intake and has no influence on which salt is healthier.

MAIN POINTS

  • The difference in sodium levels between salts is insignificant. All food-grade salts need to comply with at least 97% sodium chloride on a dry matter basis.

MYTH 5 – CONFIMRED: Himalayan salt is unpolluted, “clean”

One of the arguments related to the benefits of Himalayan salt is that it is unpolluted, “organic” and pure.

FACTS

Other types of salt either contain additives, such as anti-caking agents or iodine, or are polluted with microplastics. Pink salt from the Himalayas, on the other hand, contains only insignificant amounts of naturally occurring elements (not from environmental, human caused pollution).

The microplastic pollution issue is discussed in the sections below that compares the other types of salts.

MAIN POINTS

  • While sea salts are polluted with microplastics, and table salts have aluminum compounds or iodine added, Himalayan Salt is unpolluted by humans.

MYTH 6 – PLAUSIBLE: Himalayan Salt is healthier than other Sea Salt

Himalayan salt is thought to have more essential trace minerals and a wide variety of health benefits, than Sea Salt.

It is also considered as clean, and not-polluted compared to Sea Salt, which contains increasing amounts of heavy metals and microplastics.

FACTS

Sea salt, just like Himalayan Rock salt, contains less than 3% of elements in trace amounts. However, sea salt contains slightly less of all the trace elements.

The main points are that neither health promoting minerals, nor detrimental to health toxic elements are present in significant amounts in any of these commercially available salts.

Sea salt, however, is contaminated with microplastics, mainly polyethylene and polypropylene, which are potentially hazardous to our health.

There is a growing concern about damage that these microplastics can do to our organs, and, therefore, Himalayan Rock Salt may be a safer choice.

There are two problems with microplastics. First, many lab studies can’t detect microplastics below a certain size, which means that we don’t really know how much of them there are in salt. Secondly, it is not yet known the full extent of the long-term effects of microplastics on our health and the impact of the different particle sizes.

MAIN POINTS

  • Microplastics in sea salts are a growing health concern, and their effects on human health are not fully known at this stage. For this sole reason, Himalayan Salt may be safer than Sea salt.

MYTH 7 – BUSTED: Himalayan Salt Healthier than Table Salt

It is believed that because table salt is stripped from most essential minerals, it doesn’t contribute to any health benefits other than being a source of sodium.

Some websites also claim that table salt is highly concentrated in sodium chloride and, therefore,toxic to our body.

Table salt also contains anti-caking agents, such as toxic aluminum compounds to keep salt from forming clumps. It is believed that the aluminum accumulates in the organs and causes serious health problems.

The addition of iodine in table salt is a controversial subject and is a perfect argument for Himalayan salt promoters who emphasize the benefits of iodine free rock salt. Iodine is considered by some individuals as an unnecessary and harmful additive.

FACTS

Refined table salts are usually composed of over 99% of sodium chloride and contain much smaller amounts of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and sulfur than unrefined salts.

However, just like in table salt, rock salts, such as the Himalayan salts are insignificant sources of these essential elements because they are in negligent amounts.

On the other hand, the various additives commonly used in table salts, such as aluminum, are within the safe limits for a healthy person and, therefore, are not an issue.

Nevertheless, if you are in the risk group of aluminum toxicity, you may consider avoiding table salt. (16) (read more..)

The iodine in table salt issue needs to be considered on the case by case basis.

In short, if you are in the iodine deficiency risk group it may be beneficial for you to use iodized salt.

If not, simply chose non-iodized salt. (read more..)

MAIN POINTS

  • The choice between these two types of salt comes down to iodine deficiency risk and aluminum toxicity risk and should be considered on an individual basis.
  • Otherwise, there are no real advantages to using either salt.

MYTH 8 – BUSTED: Himalayan Salt possesses a wide range of health benefits

There is a long list of health claims of Himalayan salt and its superiority to other salts.

The benefits are mainly based on the belief that Himalayan Salt is rich in essential trace minerals that contribute to a whole range of health benefits.

The following are the most common claims: improves the water balance due to electrolyte contents, improves the body pH balance, improves respiratory problems and allergy symptoms, enhances physical and emotional health, improves vascular health, increases libido, lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, strengthens bones, detoxifies, reduces signs of aging and prevents muscle cramps.

FACTS

The answer to these claims is simple – there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these claims.

The reason is that there are not enough of these elements in salt to exert those health effects.

Please also note that most sources of these claims do not provide any links to the scientific studies and those that do point to either other non-evidence based websites or to poor quality, non-peer reviewed studies, often sponsored by salt manufacturers.

While it is true that many of the essential elements that exist in Himalayan salt have important health benefits, the amounts of these elements in this salt are too insignificant to exert any of these effects.

All of the essential elements these health benefits refer to also exist in much higher concentration in whole foods, which should be treated as major sources of these elements and not salt. (read more..)

MAIN POINTS

  • Himalayan salt contains insufficient amounts of essential trace elements to exert any of the claimed health effects.

Which is the best salt to use?

In summary, when buying salt consider this:

  1. If you are concerned about contamination of sea salts with microplastics, then choose “unpolluted” Himalayan Sea Salt instead of Sea Salt.
  2. If you are in the iodine deficiency risk group, then choose Iodized Table Salt.
  3. If you are in the aluminum toxicity risk group, then avoid Table Salt.
  4. Otherwise bear in mind that salt is basically sodium chloride, regardless of the brand or type.
  5. Buying expensive gourmet salts should be justified only for their sensory attributes and specific culinary applications due to their wide range of colors, textures and subtle taste differences. This is not based on science but rather on the experience of successful chefs. You will find tips on the appropriate culinary usage of salts on popular culinary websites or advice from renowned chefs.

Related Posts

Are the aluminium contents in table salt harmful? Only a small fraction of the maximum daily intake of aluminium (2mg per kg of body weight) is derived from table salt which does not have any impact on our health.
Are gourmet salts healthier than table salt? Gourmet salts, such as the himalayan salt or the celtic sea salt, are not healthier than table salt. Trace elements in gourmet salts and aluminium in table salts occur in insignificant amounts. Both should be treated sim...
Are the amounts of trace minerals in gourmet salts significant? The amount of trace minerals in gourmet salts, such as the himalayan salt, or sea salt, is insignificant, contrarily to what many nutritionists and the marketing messages claim.
Do we need to use iodized salt? Iodized salt is required if you belong to the iodine deficiency risk group, live in an area where iodine is scarce in the soil or don't consume iodine-rich foods.
Are the amounts of toxic metals in gourmet salts dangerous? Gourmet salts contain some amounts of toxic metals. The amount of toxic elements is below the maximum tolerable safe level and therefore does not present any health danger.
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