THE BLOG
11/11/2013 07:08 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Pass The Salt, PLEASE!

I'm obsessed with salt. Not table salt, nor bouillon cubes or soy sauce, but sea salt and unrefined salt like Himalayan sea salt, Fleur de sel, Fiore di Cervia, Maldon Sea Salt (the flakes melt on your food), salts from Hawaii, Prussia and Prague. Blue salts, red salts, pink salts and Sel Gris (gray salt) put a childlike smile on my face... just like Dr. Seuss did with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. And much to my delight, this obsession is healthy (in moderation, of course).

Well, moderation is relative, so I thought I'd clear the runway on this debate for my own peace of mind. With Google at my fingertips, here's what I turned up.

If you want to know how much salt you can have -- it depends (I know, such a lawyer-like answer.) Research shows that it's all about managing your sodium intake and what your baseline is. (Best to talk to your doctor.) I have really low blood pressure, and feel much better when I increase my salt intake. I've never been told my sodium level is too high and until I get red flagged by the Doc, I will continue to take my salts in large pinches.

Salt is packed full of minerals. Sea salt is produced by evaporation from the sea and lakes and the trace minerals and elements left behind cause variations in color. It has varying degrees of coarseness as well. Table salt, in contrast, is mined and processed, and iodine which balances the thyroid is usually added... and that's why it tastes so different. (I don't like it.) According to the Mayo Clinic,  "Regardless of which type of salt you prefer, limit total sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day  (1 tsp ) -- or 1,500 milligrams if you are: 51 or older; black; have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease." BUT -- and here's why the debate rages on. -- sodium is an essential electrolyte, which binds water and maintains fluid balance in the body, plus it's an electronically-charged molecule and essential to muscular contraction and many other bodily functions. So in short, we need sodium and how much of it we need is once again measured in: "it depends."

I wasn't elevated to a gourmet salt connoisseur until 10 years ago -- but now I pay attention to the salts I serve, eat at restaurants and gift to friends. I'm willing to pay for my salt. I like it chunky, flaky, colorful and plentiful.

Luckily, I'm not addicted to junk food -- I prefer to "see" the salt I'm ingesting. There is, however, a slight exception. I do have a particular junk food affection for Cape Cod Potato Chips. They are my natural wonder snack food. Turns out they only have 30 mg. of sodium in a small bag plus they are made with sea salt. When I feel dehydrated and slightly light-headed because of my low blood pressure -- a small bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips balances me out and returns me to equilibrium -- plus I love the crunch of the chips and the salty flavor under my tongue.

My very first childhood memory of a food craving was for potato chips. My best friend's mom had a fully-stocked cabinet of chips and I had permission to help myself. They nicknamed me the "potato chip" kid. Auntie Barbara (same mom) had a drop-dead potato chip chicken that was finger lickin great. And as a child of the '60s, I was lucky that tuna noodle casserole with potato chips was a regular offering.

When I got to college, the buzz was that salt could make you gain weight, retain weight and bloat you -- so as an overly body conscious 20-something, I took a brief break from salt. That was a dark period for me. I spent a great deal of time light headed and dangerously thin. At 5'7" in college I weighed in at 112 pounds. Not good.

I gave myself permission to eat salt, large pinches of salt at 40, and I've never looked back. My salt awakening came from a near-death experience. My electrolytes were out of whack after an intense bike ride (200 miles/2days). I had over-hydrated and washed away all my electrolytes (who knew)! Waking from a (I kid you not) coma two days later, I learned my sodium level was dangerously low. In fact, once released from the hospital, I was instructed that any exercise push needed accompanying hydration with salty drinks (like Gatorade or tomato juice). In fact, I needed to be mindful of keeping my sodium level up. (This was the coma experience's silver lining). And so began my fascination with salt.

Salt is downright mystical. Egyptians used it for religious offerings and the ancient salt trade was the exchange rate in the Mediterranean -- being worth it's weight in salt meant that there was value -- a transaction to be had. I have purchased salt extracted from the most exotic places such as: the Dead Sea, Black Lava, Hawaiian Algae and Persia. Trying these exotic salts feels like an experiment in mind-opening world travel at one's own kitchen table.

I plan to share my love of salt at Thanksgiving when I prepare my roasted Brussels sprouts smothered in olive oil and kosher salt for 25. I will sprinkle large grains of salt on the mashed potatoes and on the salad. I will bring my hostess gifts of salt to my sister's table and know that this gift will get used. I was even thinking that this Thanksgiving I will initiate a salt game. I'm bringing an assortment of the most exotic of salts to see if we can get the kids in on the taste testing.

When I'm in the mood for salt or a "lift" here's some of my all-time favorites:
  1. Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt (our BA50 Girlfriend Bars are truly the best)
  2. Large pinches of Himalayan Sea Salt on everything
  3. Ice cream with Salt (DQ Buster Bars -- once a year)
  4. Salted Lettuce - no need for dressing (just add a squeeze of lemon juice)
  5. Tequila with SALT
  6. Brussels sprouts, haricots verts, and new/sweet/large/small potatoes roasted with salt
  7. A few grains of salt in water before bedtime to sleep
  8. Salt on my avocados and poached eggs for breakfast
  9. A pinch of salt on my butter for my bread
  10. Salt on watermelon
  11. Salt on my peanut butter before a long run
  12. Not to mention a before bath in salts to soothe my aching muscles (Don't worry, I try not to sip the bath water.
If you are as much of a salt lover/aficionado as I am, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, is a wonderful read. I highly recommend it!

And now, what are some of your favorite salts and how do you eat them?

Read more from Better After 50:
Sweet Potato Latkes for Thanksgivukkah
My Favorite Thanksgiving Pies
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