What is salt? Technically, it is what you get when an acid reacts with a base. However, when it comes to salt in our diet, it is synonymous with sodium chloride, NaCl. It is the compound you get when hydrochloric acid reacts with sodium hydroxide (the base).
Salt was used by humans long before its chemical composition was known. Before sophisticated analytical technologies, like spectroscopy and mass spectrometry were invented to identify the chemical composition of substances, humans had to use their senses to discern different substances. Ayurveda, a healthcare system that originated in India over 5000 years ago, talks about the salt taste as one of the six essential tastes that is necessary in the human diet to support health.
As with pretty much everything else, we have choices when it comes to salt; from the common table salt, to the pretty pink Himalayan salt, to the less visually appealing black salt. All all salts equal when it comes to our health? This article will delve into the nature, types, and nutritive impact of salt as described in Ayurveda, with some chemistry juxtaposition.
Salt taste in Ayurveda
One of the fundamental properties of substances as described in Ayurveda is Rasa, translated as "taste" in English. There are six tastes: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Since everything that was known to humans was perceived through the senses, Ayurveda describes the properties of substances in terms of five perceivable elements called Panchamahabhoota viz. space, wind, fire, water, and earth. The salt taste has the properties of Fire and Water elements and has the following effect on the body:
There are over ten types of salt that are referenced in the Brihat Trayi, the three authoritative works on Ayurveda. Of these, five types are referenced in all three which indicates they were probably more commonly used. These are Saindhava, Samudra, Sauvarchala, Vida, and Aubhida.
1. Saindhava salt is referenced in all three texts as being the best type of salt. This is currently understood to be rock salt. Contrary to other types of salts, this salt is cooling and beneficial for the eyes. The excellent review on salts in Ayurveda by N. S. Mooss explains the possible origins and composition of this salt:
4. Vida salt is described as being "sharp, and alkaline, and dark red in color". This variety of salt is also currently shrouded in confusion as to the chemical composition. It is a salt that seems to be synthesized using organic material, probably alma. It is unlikely that there are authentic commercial forms of this salt available today.
5. Aubhida salt is described as "sharp, hot, bitter, pungent, and alkaline". The origin of this salt seems to be in current Punjab. Mooss postulates that the composition of this salt is similar to Souvarchala salt based on the similarity in properties described.
Iodine in salt
Iodine was introduced in salt in the US in the 1920s when goiter, a disease that causes enlargement of the thyroid gland due to iodine deficiency, plagued a significant percentage of the US population. Natural food sources of iodine are plants that absorb the nutrient from the soil, seaweed, fish, and dairy. However, there are some areas where the soil is depleted of iodine, such as the Great Lakes region in the US. This area was part of the "goiter belt" that catalyzed the introduction of iodized salt.
Iodine is not found naturally in cow's milk, but industrialization of the dairy industry, particularly, using iodine for sanitation and in feed, have resulted in dairy products becoming a significant, albeit highly variable, source of iodine.
So this begs the question: do we need iodized salt?
Unless it's fruit and vegetables.
I recently went on a team building event from work to a place where we baked some goodies as a team. One of the items we made was red velvet cake. I bit my tongue as we dumped a couple of tablespoons of the red dye into the dough. Did I do the right thing in not speaking up about the hazards of using artificial food coloring? I don't know. . .
It seems there are two camps these days on food, bath and body ingredients - the alarmists a la Food Babe and the "I'm cool with parabens because that's the best thing there is to preserve things for 5 years without fearing icky mold and bacteria growth". Kind of like American politics conspicuous by the lack of a balanced point of view.
Below is how I feel about artificial food coloring. I wrote this as a comment in response to a blog post from a lady who has her own natural products line. You can read her post here.
While I commend the spirit with which you have written this article, I still think it is very important for consumers to become smarter in choosing both food and bath and body products. A couple of examples: artificial food coloring. There are now a ton of products that have food coloring. Three of these dyes that are used widely in the US have benzidene which a study published in an NIH paper shows to be a human and animal carcinogen. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/
The FDA of course approves of this to be used because the concentration is too low to cause harm. Which is the same argument used to permit the use of lead acetate in a men's hair product to cover grey. There are scientific papers written that conclude there is NO safe level of exposure to lead.
Although most of the Questionable ingredients are present in low concentrations, the lack of transparency in labeling products and the absence of audits in the bath and body industry, exposes consumers to risks - and given that the combination of multiple food and bath and body products consumed, concern about the cumulative impact of the effects of these substances on health is understandable. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of consumers to vet out what is in food and other products to ensure safety, ethical practices in mass manufacturing especially when it comes to children. The truth is we will never be able to isolate a health issue to a certain ingredient. But like you say, the way everything we put in our bodies can interact with each other, how they build up due to cumulative effects etc. are common sense concerns.
I do agree that consumers must get smart about vetting out scientific studies from alarmist blogs or websites written by people who have no formal training or credibility in health or chemistry. Just because this needs more effort does not imply consumers can blindly consume if they have any regard for what they are putting in their bodies. This article in the Scientific American illustrates the impact consumers can have on changing the way big companies approach what they put in their products. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-artificial-food-coloring-contribute-to-adhd-in-children/
Thanks for reading my long comment!
So what do you think about artificial food coloring? As I wrote this comment, I realized that the key reason that I chose to start my own skin care line was really inspired by the concept of minimalism. I am not an alarmist - I did eat the red velvet cupcake - but I believe we need not resort to unwanted and un-needed things to make our food (including skin food) nutritious, beautiful, and tasty.
Lastly, I want to leave you with this guide on food colorants by a then toxicology Ph.D. candidate: https://cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf