Q&A: Organic foods and salt

Q. Is there really such a thing as so-called ‘healthy’ salt, or is it all just a case of marketing hype to have us spend more money on everyday food items?

A. Unfortunately salt has been given a bad reputation – while there are people out there who genuinely need to cut back or eliminate their salt intake for health reasons, sodium is actually an essential nutrient.

We need sodium to regulate fluid levels, blood pressure, and assist in proper muscle and nerve function. When we are low in sodium, it can be difficult for our bodies to cool down following exertion or activity – lack of sodium leads to insufficient sweating, which can result in dehydration, exhaustion, or even stroke.

Sodium is also responsible for transferring messages from the brain to the muscles via the nervous system. Basically, sodium molecules carry the command to the muscles in order to initiate movement through the sodium-potassium ion exchange. About 85% of the sodium in our bodies is in the blood and lymphatic fluid.

There is indeed such as thing as ‘healthy’ salt. Unrefined crystalline salt contains all of the natural minerals and trace elements found in the human body, whereas refined (table) salt has had the minerals removed, has been bleached, and often contains anti-caking or free flow agents to prevent clumping. Table salt may contain aluminium, ferrocyanide, and bleach due to these refining processes.

Effectively, table salt is a cellular poison that is stored by the body at great expense to our health. Natural crystal salt only occurs as a result of immense pressure over millions of years, thus creating a crystalline structure where the elements are biochemically available to our cells. Rock salt, while superior to table salt, has not undergone sufficient pressure to create the crystalline grid or lattice – which simply means that the natural elements are too coarse and unrefined to be absorbed into our cells.

Sodium levels in the body are partially regulated by a hormone called aldosterone, which is made by the adrenal glands. Aldosterone levels determine whether the kidneys hold sodium in the body or pass the excess into the urine to be excreted.

So which salt is actually healthy? Himalayan crystal salt (a glowing pink colour) or Celtic Sea Salt (a greyish green colour), or regular sea salt are the most mineral-rich options.ksalt

Q. I am looking to avoid toxins where possible, but can’t always afford to buy organic foods. Can you please tell me which foods are safest to eat without being organic?

A. The answer is always changing, which is why the USDA Pesticide Data Program publishes yearly updates on the “Dirty Dozen” – the 12 most pesticide-laden produce items (in the United States). This gives us a good idea of which foods typically contain higher levels of pesticide residues, but it will differ between (and within) countries.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also releases an annual list known as the “Clean Fifteen”. The following fruit and vegetables have consistently shown up as being very low in pesticides, and are your best bet when it comes to choosing the safest non-organic produce: Avocados, onions, pineapple, mango, grapefruit, rockmelon, asparagus, paw paw (papaya), kiwi, sweet corn, eggplant (aubergine), cauliflower, sweet potato (kumara), cabbage, frozen peas, bananas, almonds.

I would suggest that you find a local Farmers’ Market where you are able to chat with the grower and find out just what their practices are regarding spraying. Often a grower will use minimal or organic pest and disease prevention methods, but is not officially certified as an organic producer.

Produce consistently testing very high for pesticide loads include stone fruits, leafy greens, apples, potatoes, grapes, celery, tomatoes, and berries – so it might be worth stretching the budget for these items, growing your own, or leaving them off the menu.


Ladysbridge and District Flower and Garden Club will meet on Monday at 8pm in Garryvoe Hotel.Gardening Notes: Your one-stop guide to the week's events

Don’t forget to lavish roses with the attention they deserve this winter, urges Hannah StephensonDon’t forget to lavish roses with the attention they deserve this winter

In advance of her appearance at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, Ellie O'Byrne chats to Motown legend Martha Reeves'The simple answer is, I was given drugs when all I needed was some rest': Motown legend Martha Reeves

I go for a quick run with Jasper the dog (he runs, I walk)Working Life: Margaret Naughton - Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation

More From The Irish Examiner