Salt 101: Why You Need It, How Much Is Too Much, and How to Cut Back

Salt is an omnipresent condiment in the United States. In fact, you probably sprinkled a little on your food today. But have you stopped to think about the nitty-gritty details of salt — perhaps its history or health benefits, or maybe the reasons behind your cravings? There’s way more to salt than meets the eye. Read on to learn more about this simple but widely used ingredient.

What Is Salt and Where Does It Come From? 

Most of the salt you eat comes from seawater or is mined from deep within the earth.

Seawater is diverted to a shallow evaporation pond connected by man-made canals. The pond fills with water, and through the natural process of evaporation, the water slowly disappears, leaving salt to be harvested. (1)

Underground salt (from rock salt) is extracted by drilling or cutting a hole into the rock, and then using machinery to break up the salt into crushed pieces. Miners can also erect walls around a salt bed, and then inject the bed with forced water to dissolve the mineral.

The end result is a liquid salt solution that’s pumped and held in an evaporation tank. The liquid evaporates, and the salt remains. (1)

To some people, salt is nothing more than an ingredient in their favorite dishes. But salt doesn’t only add flavor to foods. The body needs salt, and it plays an important role in preserving food. (2)

Hunters in ancient times often killed more than they could quickly consume. To protect the food from bacteria, mold, and spoilage, they would sprinkle salt on the meat to draw out the moisture and keep it fresh for a longer period of time. (3)

Salt also preserved corpses and was used in the mummification process. Due to the high demand in ancient civilizations, salt was heavily taxed, traded, and even used as a form of currency. (3)

What’s the Difference Between Sodium and Salt?

You might use the terms sodium and salt interchangeably, but there are differences between the two.

Salt is a natural mineral composed of two elements: sodium and chloride. (4)

Salt is about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. (4)