February 4th, 2011
08:31 AM ET

Are nonsodium salts healthier than traditional?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Kristan of Atlanta, Georgia

My sister and I were talking about salt. She has noticed that sea salt is currently being marketed as a healthy, or trendy, food additive, but can't figure out if there's any real science behind the marketing. Are nonsodium salts, like magnesium chloride and potassium chloride, any healthier than traditional sodium chloride? People with, say, high blood pressure are told to stick to low-sodium diets. But is it the sodium, or is it a different quality that causes the increased risk?

Expert answer

Hi Kristan. In light of the new dietary guidelines for Americans that came out this week recommending a reduction in sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, and a further reduction in intake to 1,500 milligrams a day among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African-American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, I thought this was a good time to answer this question.

Lowering sodium helps lower blood pressure, one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke, because too much sodium intake leads to water retention, which stretches blood vessel walls, leading to high blood pressure. This is particularly important as people age and blood vessels become more stiff, leading to even further increases in blood pressure.

Sea salt is a less-processed form of sodium, which may contain trace amounts of minerals, but by weight contains the same amount of sodium. It has a coarser texture and is not as finely ground as table salt, so an equivalent serving size contains slightly less sodium due to the larger volume of the salt crystals (you get less per serving).

In addition, some people find that it has slightly more flavor, so they can get away with using less, which is always a good thing. While sea salt does contain minute amounts of iodine, it does not have iodine added as table salt does. Iodine deficiency is relatively uncommon in the United States, so this should not be a major concern for most people.

Salt substitutes usually contain potassium chloride, which does not raise blood pressure as sodium chloride (table salt) does. It should, however, be used with caution in those with kidney disease, heart failure or on blood pressure or heart medications that increase potassium levels.

A better option is to use herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals to keep salt intake down. Even more important, limit your intake of processed and prepared foods (grocery and restaurant) as these foods make up more than 70% of our daily salt intake, while added salt makes up only about 10% (the remainder comes from naturally occurring salt). To my knowledge, magnesium chloride is used to melt ice and snow on roads, not as an edible salt substitute.

soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. Bob

    What about sea salt?

    February 4, 2011 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jean paul

      it's in there. keep reading

      February 4, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
  2. Rudy Gonzales

    Stupid – Salt is salt...

    February 4, 2011 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      And if there hadn't been a scare about MSG (which is completely safe and naturally occurring in foods such as peas, mushrooms, parmesan cheese...), we could cut sodium by about 40% simply by replacing half the salt with MSG in most recipes.

      But then again, some racist boob had to write about "chinese restaurant syndrome"... he was probably just mildly allergic to peanut oil or some other food staple along with being stupid racist.

      February 4, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse |
    • maddawg

      and iTards that think 'one thing is one thing' are just too dumb to know any better...............boy have you got a closed mind and a seemingly severe lack of intelligence.

      no wonder you have the daily problems in life that you always have!

      February 4, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
  3. The_Mick

    "While sea salt does contain minute amounts of iodine, it does not have iodine added as table salt does. Iodine deficiency is relatively uncommon in the United States, so this should not be a major concern for most people."

    As long as you eat iodized salt!!! That's the ONLY reason it's "relatively uncommon"! Note that Morton "Lite Salt", with half the sodium of regular salt, IS iodized. Potassium chloride and potassium iodide represent half the salt by atom count and about 45% by weight.

    February 4, 2011 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Guest on the Coast


      Iodine can be found in seafood such as shellfish as well. The reason that iodine is added to salt is to keep the meat only landlocked people from getting goitres. Now that someone in Kansas City can go to Red Lobster, the use of iodine in salt is less necessary with a diet that includes a balance of seafood.

      February 4, 2011 at 11:20 | Report abuse |
  4. dr André

    Magnesium chloride not edible? Do you have any scientific knowledge? Magnesium deficiency is a huge problem, to the extent that we often prescribe magnesium chloride as medicine! We even give dosages up to 2 grams of the sulphate intravenous in critical diseases like delirium tremens.

    February 4, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stacey

      Magnesium Chloride is not toxic in small amounts, if that's what you mean. But it does not taste like what we would normally call 'salt' i.e. sodium chloride. It's a bit bitter. It is used in foods (making tofu, for example), making it edible, but it's not 'salty.'

      Magnesium Chloride and Magnesium Sulphate are different. Both are magnesium salts, the former containing chlorine and the latter containing sulphur/sulfur and oxygen.

      February 7, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
  5. Tammy

    The sodium content needs to be regulated in processed foods and all will be good. More companies are beginning to do this like Hunts has a no salt added option now with their products. Its amazing to see the difference of the sodium content comparing the labels and the products taste great! Shows that all the sodium isnt necessary thats being used in processed foods. People arent willing to cut out processed foods obviously so the alternative will need to come into play.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Joe in Colorado

    Umm, I buy iodized sea salt.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Heidi

    Sodium (salt) and potassium work together, too much or too little of one or the other creates an imbalance... adding potassium offsets the over-abundance of salt in our diets... again, as the article mentions, if you're on medication or have kidney problems, caution should be exercised. Sodium, Potassium, magnesium, calcium: electrolytes. We need them in the proper ratio.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Glenn

    Want a shocker, read the sodium content of frozen waffles!

    February 4, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BadPatient

      i would be more worried about the corn content myself.

      February 5, 2011 at 23:17 | Report abuse |
  9. questionauthority

    Sodium allthough a concern if taken in excess is not the only problem with table salt. The body breaks it down to its basic components. Choride ion is poison to the body. Talk about not seeing the forest through the trees.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Finn

      That must be why we're all dead.

      February 4, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      Chlorine is toxic, chloride is somewhat less so, but the body does a pretty good job of keeping it under control if introduced through the digestive tract. Remember that stomach acid is mostly hydrochloric acid, so the stuff is used.

      February 4, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
    • KDW

      You do realize that you would die if there was no form of salt in your diet at all, right? Salt was such a commodity that it was actually used to pay Roman soldiers (this is where the word salary comes from). Many civilizations in history made their profits by the exchange of salt to cultures that did not have it. Also as someone has already pointed out to you, your understanding of the chemistry and biology of salt is a little off.

      February 4, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
  10. Mary

    The word salt has two meanings to me: sodium chloride and chemical combination such sodium chloride of which there are MANY. While potassium chloride is used as a seasoning, persons on prescription KCl should avoid overdosing with potassium as it can have direct effects on the heart.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charles

      "A salt" is a compound of a positive and negative ion. For common table "salt", that's a sodium ion (Na+) and a chloride ion (Cl-). Magnesium sulfate is a salt of magnesium (Mg 2+) and sulfate (SO4 2-).

      February 4, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse |
  11. Katy

    I started using garlic salt instead of regular salt. It adds more flavor and has 1/4 of the sodium of regular salt.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Charles

    This article's description of sea salt is disappointing, to say the least. Sea salt is mostly (~85%) sodium chloride, the same as table salt (which is usually mined from dry deposits). About 8% is sulfate, 3-4% magnesium, and smaller proportions of calcium, potassium, bromide, bicarbonate, even a little borate. Some of these components taste a little different. Based on the different composition and crystal shape/size, sea salt dissolves differently contributing to taste/mouth-feel.

    So going from 100% to 85%, switching from table salt to sea salt will reduce your salt intake, from the salt shaker alone by 15%, not counting what is in the food from nature or processing. Much better to reduce your sodium intake by skipping the shaker and choosing foods that don't have as much to begin with.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Charles

    Oops. Slightly misstated. Sea salt is 85% sodium chloride, which is the same substance as table salt. That is not to say that table salt is 85% sodium chloride.

    February 4, 2011 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Low BP

    I have low blood pressure. My cardiologist told me to eat more salt. *dance*

    February 4, 2011 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brooke

      I found out that this is also often true during pregnancy, which no one seems to publicize. Enjoy the salt! 🙂

      February 4, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    What about all of the other components in the sea salt mixture after the sea water is evaporated. Presumably anything in the water will be part of the salt residue. This means it is very important where the sea salt comes from. Sea water can now contain heavy metals, sewage, runoff from agriculture, etc, etc. How is that removed from the sea salt? Is it tested for purity? I think I prefer to get my salt from ancient salt domes. They would be more free of modern chemicals that have been introduced into sea water. It was even worse before the clean water act and I remember the salt water evaporation ponds next to the south bay in San Diego. No telling waht was in that salt.

    February 4, 2011 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. tanyakristine

    ACtually Celtic salt is good for you. it does not raise your blood pressure and it contains minerals from the ocean.

    February 4, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Low BP

      Celtic is predominantly sodium chloride just like other sea salts. It will raise blood pressure.

      February 4, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  17. roadster08

    I don't see this story changing anybody's mind about anything. News means it's new.

    February 4, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Odalice yolanda feliz

    People with high blood pressure should stick to no salt!

    February 4, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Aaron Rowdawg

    A salt enema is the way to go.

    February 4, 2011 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Brooke

    What I'm interested to know is whether this is really an issue for everyone. My blood pressure has always been fine, and I love salt and put it heartily on various foods. My husband, however, is on two bp meds at age 40. His problem seems hereditary (he's not overweight and his some of his (also non-overweight) family members have had serious high bp problems). I'd like to know whether sodium has less of a blood pressure effect on some people, and whether this (theoretical) resistance to sodium sensitivity may change as you age (ie whether I'll develop bp trouble later on from sodium intake).

    February 4, 2011 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M

      I am not overweight and as a young kid I had extremely high blood pressure. Dangerously high. I finally researched it and found out that sodium can raise BP. I cut out sodium and it fell the next day, literally. Don't try to prove rules with the exception. Tell him to cut out salt. If that doesn't fix it, keep cutting salt and move on to the next thing.

      February 4, 2011 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
  21. Richard

    I can hardly wait till the new age losers latch onto something like potassium chloride, and start dropping like flies from heart attacks. Keep sucking up the snake oil, gullibles.

    February 4, 2011 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BadPatient

      but don't you think that is what they will turn to? thinking that they are being good and totally not realizing that a little bit of information can actually be pretty dangerous? i already know people that do that. they know that someone got potassium in the hospital so they think its good. well...its another one of those balance things. but they don't know that. all they ever heard was that salt was bad. we get a lot of seriously lousy information.

      February 5, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
  22. stephanie

    What about Mrs Dash?

    February 7, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. sunny

    what about lite salt which has potassium chloride? like Mortin lite salt?

    March 20, 2012 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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