A common food trend over the last few years has been the increasing popularity and use of ‘pink’ or Himalayan salt.
Despite the more striking appearance and common perception of it being ‘healthier’ and ‘more natural’, does it actually have any nutritional benefits beyond that of regular white table salt?
Some people use the terms ‘salt’ and ‘sodium’ interchangeably but it is important to understand the difference. Sodium is one component of salt.
The chemical name for salt is “sodium chloride” and the chemical symbol that denotes table salt is “NaCl”. By weight, the salt we eat is typically around 40% sodium and 60% chloride.
This means that the Food Standards Australian and New Zealand guidelines to eat less than 2,300mg of sodium per day equates to around 6,000mg (or 6 grams) of actual salt.
In the body, NaCl dissolves and the Sodium (Na) disassociates from the chloride (Cl), each compound has various physiological functions in the body.
Sodium is critical in the diet, and has roles that include fluid and electrolyte balance, interactions with blood pressure and blood volume, muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and cell function.
The Latest Research
In the study, 31 one samples of pink salt available in Australia were tested for a variety of minerals. These were compared to a white table salt control sample.
Nutrients In Pink Salt
Pink salts that were tested generally did have higher mineral content, but the amounts were hugely variable depending on the source and brand of the salt.
Compared to white table salt per kilogram, pink salt contained substantially higher nutrient levels of:
- Calcium (2695.09 mg vs. 393.28 mg)
- Iron (63.75 mg vs. 0 mg)
- Magnesium (2655.31 mg vs. 83.94 mg)
- Manganese (2.16 mg vs. 0 mg)
- Potassium (2406.05 mg vs. 151.68 mg)
These results should be interpreted with caution. Keep in mind these reported numbers are per kilogram of salt.
To have any tangible increase in the dietary intake of minerals, you’d likely need to eat around 5 times the maximum daily recommended salt intake (i.e. more than 5 full teaspoons) of salt!
Using a real-life amount of salt (ie 5 or 6g) shows a different story.
Potassium ranged from 10 to 453mg per 100g of pink salt, that’s up to 45x the amount depending on which pink salt you are un/lucky enough to get. This averaged out to 12.3mg of potassium per 5 grams for pink salt, while the white salt control only had around 0.7mg/5g.
In terms of the actual amount of extra nutrients you would be consuming if eating pink salt, the net amount is trivial. For example, the recommended daily intake for potassium is 3,800mg/day for men and 2,800mg/day for women.
To put this in perspective: even if you consume 100% of your maximum recommended intake of sodium (6g) from the most potassium-rich pink salt, this is still only about 22mg out of the 3,800mg (or 2,800mg) you need.
In comparison, a 150g salmon fillet would give you about 950mg, 1 cup of cooked spinach around 840mg, and 150g of potato would give you around 800mg of potassium…
The numbers stack up similarly with other micronutrients found in pink salt vs those found in whole foods. Pink salt really is not contributing a significant amount of additional nutrients to your diet.
Non-Nutritive Minerals and Heavy Metals
Compared to white table salt per kilogram, pink salt contained higher non-nutrient minerals such as:
- Aluminium (76.27 mg vs. 0 mg)
- Barium (0.77 mg vs. 0.01 mg)
- Silicon (131.00 mg vs. 0 mg)
- Sulphur (7344.70 mg vs. 431.22 mg)
None of these exceeded safe intake levels set by food standards authorities.
Compared to white table salt per kilogram, pink salt contained more metals such as: Lead (0.13 mg vs. 0.02 mg) and Aluminium (76.27 mg vs. 0.0 mg). White salt had more Mercury (0.02 mg vs. 0.0 mg) and Cadmium (0.02 mg vs. 0.0 mg) than pink salt.
Again, with the exception of 1 specific pink salt that came from Peru, none of the tested salts exceeded safe intake levels set by food standards authorities.
Concerningly, the sample from Peru, contained a high lead content (2.59 mg/kg) which exceeded the maximum metal contaminant level of 2 mg/kg for salt.
Similar to the excessive amount of salt you’d need to eat to positively affect your health and nutrient balance – the amount you’d have to eat to experience negative effects is likely also beyond the normal scope of intake.
In my opinion, the non-nutritive minerals/metal contained in pink salt (or table salt for that matter), would be extremely unlikely to negatively affect your health when consuming normal/recommended levels of salt.
Pink salt is no ‘healthier’ than regular salt and is generally more expensive. Sure, it looks cooler…but there is also a higher (albeit slim) possibility of it containing potentially harmful compounds.
There are other amazing ways to flavour your food besides salt. The upper limit of 2,300mg of sodium or 6 grams of salt per day is quite high. The actual “adequate intake” of sodium is much lower at 460-920 mg/day. On average, Australian’s far exceed adequate intake amounts.
Try using more herbs and spices instead of salt. Things like chilli, paprika, cumin, thyme, parsley, oregano, and rosemary all add taste, colour, and flavour to foods without increasing your sodium intake!
Stick to the Australian Dietary Guidelines and consume under 6g of salt (pink or otherwise) per day and you’ll likely be fine. If you do buy pink salt, maybe avoid Peruvian ones.