Sea Salt: Uses, Benefits, and Downsides
Medically reviewed by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, RDN (Ice) — By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD on November 12, 2019
Sea salt vs. table salt
Sea salt is made by evaporating salt water. People around the world have used it since prehistoric times, and it’s commonly found in many kitchens today.
Aside from its culinary uses, sea salt is often added to body scrubs, baths, beverages, and countless other products.
Some people believe it’s healthier than other types of salt and provides several benefits, but there is little research to back these claims.
This article provides an overview of the common uses of sea salt, as well as its potential benefits and downsides.
Sea salt vs. table salt
Sea salt is mostly composed of sodium chloride, a compound that helps regulate fluid balance and blood pressure in the body.
Since it’s minimally processed, it contains some minerals, including potassium, iron, and calcium. This is one reason why it’s often considered nutritionally superior to table salt, which is heavily ground and has had most of its nutrients removed (1).
However, the nutrients in sea salt are only present in trace amounts. You would have to eat extremely large amounts of it to even get close to the amount of potassium, iron, calcium, or magnesium that you could easily get from whole foods.
Sea salt granules are also larger than table salt granules. As a result, regular salt provides approximately 2,300 mg of sodium per teaspoon (6.1 grams), while sea salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium per teaspoon (4.2 grams) (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
This is because fewer sea salt granules can be packed into a teaspoon, compared with table salt. It’s not because it contains less sodium than table salt.
Still, most people do not realize this distinction and consider sea salt to be healthier than table salt, as excessive sodium consumption has been linked to high blood pressure levels and an increased risk of heart disease (4Trusted Source).
However, if the amount of sodium you consume exceeds the recommended limit or your personal tolerance, using sea salt in place of regular salt makes no difference (5Trusted Source).
In fact, some people find that they need to use more sea salt in cooking to achieve the same level of flavor.
Compared with table salt, sea salt is less processed, contains more trace nutrients, and has a larger particle size, a characteristic that explains why it contains less sodium per teaspoon. However, these differences do not make it nutritionally superior.
Since sodium chloride (salt) has several important functions in the body, it’s necessary to consume it from foods to maintain optimal health.
Some people claim that sea salt, in particular, has several additional benefits. However, most of these are not backed by strong scientific research.
Here are a few of the most common claims about sea salt.
Hydration, blood pressure, and more
In general, salt can help you maintain adequate hydration and blood pressure levels.
Since sodium plays a vital role in fluid balance, not getting enough of it can lead to dehydration, especially during high-intensity exercise (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
Having proper fluid balance in the body is also important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels (8Trusted Source).
Therefore, consuming either too little or too much sodium can lead to changes in blood pressure in those who are sensitive to dietary salt (9Trusted Source).
Eating sea salt can help you meet your sodium needs, but you can also get sodium from a variety of other foods.
Some believe that consuming sea salt mixed with lukewarm water aids digestion.
Chloride is necessary to produce stomach acid, and sodium chloride (salt) facilitates the absorption and transportation of nutrients in the intestines after they have been broken down during digestion (10Trusted Source).
Therefore, consuming enough salt promotes optimal digestive health.
One study looked at the effects of drinking salt water in 54 adults preparing for a colonoscopy.
Those who performed certain yoga postures and drank 2 cups (480 ml) of water made with 4.5 grams of salt had bowel movements before the procedure (11Trusted Source).
However, it’s unclear to what extent salt water alone helps improve bowel health.
While drinking sea salt mixed with water may aid digestion in some instances, drinking too much salt water may lead you to consume too much salt. Getting adequate sodium from other sources is probably enough to support normal digestion.
Skin health and inflammation
Taking a sea salt bath is thought to decrease skin dryness and inflammation.
In fact, the National Eczema Foundation recommends adding 1 cup of salt to bathwater to help relieve irritation from eczema, a condition marked by red, itchy skin (12).
However, it’s unclear how and whether salt baths help decrease skin inflammation, as well as whether sea salt, in particular, exerts any specific effects.
One study in people with dry skin found that bathing in a salt solution obtained from the Dead Sea helped increase skin hydration and decrease roughness, compared with bathing in tap water (13Trusted Source).
That said, the researchers attributed the positive results to the amount of magnesium in the Dead Sea solution — not the salt content (13Trusted Source).
What’s more, another study found that higher concentrations of sodium chloride in the body and skin may increase the number of immune cells that lead to the inflammatory reactions associated with dry and itchy skin (14Trusted Source).
These contradicting findings suggest that the ability of sea salt baths to improve skin irritation may largely depend on the salt’s mineral composition.
Sea salts that have a high magnesium content may be the best types to add to baths for those with skin issues.
Getting enough sodium, regardless of the type of salt it’s from, is important for hydration and blood pressure. Some research suggests it may also aid digestion and improve skin issues when added to baths.
Possible downsides of too much salt
Sea salt adds flavor to foods and may have some beneficial non-dietary uses, but it should not be consumed in excess.
The typical American diet contains a large amount of high-sodium processed foods, and most people in the United States consume more than the recommended amount of sodium (4Trusted Source).
Overconsumption of sodium is associated with high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and other health issues (15Trusted Source).
Therefore, even if you prefer sea salt over other types of salt, it does not offer any specific benefits and should be used in moderation like all other salts.
Furthermore, people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, and heart failure may need to be particularly careful about their intake of sea salt and other salts (16Trusted Source).
Consuming too much salt of any kind, including sea salt, can result in excessive sodium intake, which has been linked to high blood pressure and other health issues.
How to use it
If you are interested in using sea salt in the kitchen, there are several ways to add it to your diet.
Depending on the type, it may provide more or less flavor than table salt.
You can use sea salt in place of regular salt in most dishes. However, you should always use finely ground sea salt if you are replacing table salt in a baking recipe.
Given that table salt is finely ground, it packs more sodium per teaspoon than sea salt, which is usually course. As such, you’ll want to make sure you use an equivalent amount.
Some popular ways to use sea salt include sprinkling it on roasted veggies, adding it to chocolate-based desserts, and using it to season steaks, burgers, and fish.
Finally, you can prepare a salt bath by adding 1 cup (230 grams) of sea salt to warm bathwater.
While more research is needed to determine whether salt baths offer any specific health benefits, taking a warm bath can at least provide relaxation and comfort.
You can use sea salt in place of other salts in most recipes, including meat dishes, vegetables, and desserts. Some people also like to add it to their baths.
The bottom line
Sea salt is a minimally processed type of salt that adds flavor to foods and can be used in various home remedies.
Getting enough sodium is important for fluid balance, hydration, and digestion, but it’s unnecessary to consume sea salt to meet your sodium needs.
The non-culinary uses of sea salt, such as adding it to your bath, may improve skin health and provide other benefits. However, no strong research supports the many health claims associated with it.
Overall, you can use sea salt in many ways, but it should not be considered a health remedy.
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