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Sea Salt Nonsense

It was the 1920s social critic H.L. Mencken who etched the phrase into American history: No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

Well, the sea salt people must be raking it in.

I am reading the label of Celtic Sea Salt, with its quaint package of a farmer, apparently of Celtic origins, gathering his salt harvest from what I assume are the salt marshes along the coast of the south of France. Certainly looks like a more pleasant place to gather salt than that dreary alternative, an underground salt mine. But although every physician worth her salt (sorry) will tell you to reduce your salt intake, this package informs us that Celtic salt is “doctor recommended.”

This reminds me of the cigarette commercials running from the 1930s through the 1950s that boasted more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette. Here, by the way, is a neat old commercial that illustrates this point.

Harking back to these old Camels ads, the Celtic Sea Salt people managed to convince several physicians to say they recommend sea salt because it contains “useful trace minerals.” Well, the only useful trace mineral it contains is magnesium, and one-half teaspoon of Celtic Sea Salt contains exactly 2% of our daily magnesium requirement. How anyone, especially a physician, could recommend eating more salt as a source of trace minerals is beyond me. We already eat far more salt than is good for us, and our excess intake is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, fluid retention, congestive heart failure, and strokes.

The Celtic Sea Salt website actually has a bullet point that reads “great for hypertension,” implying that eating more salt will lower your blood pressure. Or maybe they mean “great for developing hypertension.” Simply amazing.

By the way, if it’s more magnesium you want, try eating some really healthy foods like spinach and other greens, whole grains, nuts, veggies, and fish. Just not salt! Please note at the link that a cup of boiled spinach infuses you with more than 39% of your daily magnesium requirement, whether or not you sprinkle a little sea salt on it.

Companies are enlisting Madison Avenue to enhance their profits by adding sea salt to all sorts of foods. Wendy’s announced its new “natural cut fries” (maybe hand-sliced by the little French children of salt gatherers?) are flavored with sea salt. Lays Kettle Cooked Potato Chips are “sea salt flavored.”

So why am I making such a fuss? If people want to think sea salt is purer and better for them, I should stop being such a curmudgeon. Sorry, but I can’t sit still for this.

Two additional points:
First, it’s harvested by evaporating sea water near the shoreline. Factories dump tons of polluted waste into the sea, as do ships and people. Would you go swimming in Marseilles harbor? And, yes, despite the good intentions of sea salt producers, some of the sea salt processing plants around the world (not Celtic, to my knowledge) have been closed for selling tainted product. Remember, despite the myth of the salt gatherer, this is not sea salt from the 17th century you’re sprinkling on your food. This is from the highly polluted now.

Second, you need to consider the “evil” additive they’re talking about, of which the sea salt is free. This additive is iodine, which was very deliberately added to salt starting in the 1920s to deal with the epidemic of goiter (thyroid gland enlargement) in the US. The thyroid expands in an attempt to make more hormone when it senses insufficient iodine in the diet. We need iodine to make thyroid hormone and we need thyroid hormone for survival.

Before the addition of iodine, the upper Midwest was called the “goiter belt” because 25% of people living there were developing large thyroids to compensate for low iodine in their soil. With insufficient iodine and low thyroid production, they were developing low thyroid (hypothyroidism), symptoms of which include weight gain, mental sluggishness, and hair loss. And the newborns of iodine-deficient women developed a permanent mental retardation then called cretinism.

Within a generation of adding iodine to salt, low-iodine goiter and cretinism became very rare diagnoses. There are a few goiter belts left in the world, the Andes Mountains being one of them, where you still see goiters and a disproportionate number of the children are born with iodine-related mental deficiency.

So cut it out with the sea salt fixation and…

Leave a Comment


  1. Addie says:

    Is there a guarantee the “doctors” quoted in these ads are physicians? Does anyone check up on this?

  2. Karen Stahlecker says:

    Great article to nip in the bud yet another “health” scam intended to make others rich and take advantage of the unsuspecting public looking for miracle cures. My question however has to do with the medical benefits of not ingesting the sea salt, but are the purposed therapeutic benefits of spending times in these manmade salt caves to relieve respiratory, circulatory and skin ailments viable or another instance of false advertising?

  3. Dr. E says:

    Hi Addie
    Yes, they’re doctors all right. I’m hoping they’ve been misquoted or their comments were taken out of context.
    And Hi Karen
    Historically, political prisoners were sentenced to salt mines and knew they were going to die young.

  4. Annie Smith says:

    Regarding “Sea Salt”. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Dr. E!!
    I have been spending years trying to avoid excess salt because of a predisposition to high blood pressure. Now I am seeing salt that comes in different colors and looking very attractive! You can buy salt to match your kitchen! Thanks for the reminder that what is popular is not always good or good for you.

  5. Jan Szostek says:

    The article on sea salt vs. salt with iodine has me wondering whether the apparently frequent incidence of hypothyroidism could also be due to a lack of iodine. Is there a correlation there? If one includes sufficient amounts of iodine in one’s diet, can thyroid medication become unnecessary?

  6. Well done! I agree. I was intending to post a blog on this topic!

  7. Ella says:

    I’m glad to see a common sense article about salt at last! It irritates me so much when pretentious people online specify using Céltic sea salt or Himalayan rock salt in their recipes. It’s like those people who think crystals have magical powers. They area away with the fairies.

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