There are many views on salt, and I believe it has to do with our different cultures and traditions, just as well as our history and access to different types of salt depending on where you are located. Today I am going to give you the ayurvedic perspective on salt. Because, as you might know, Ayurveda doesn’t only look at the properties (nutrients) of a certain food. As practitioners we also take into account the taste (sweet, salty, pungent, astringent, bitter and acidic), the potency (hot or cold) and the post-digestive effect it will have on your body tissues (again one of the 6 tastes mentioned earlier, of which 2 out of 6 relate to the increase of a single dosha).
Of course I could start off with an extensive list on the types of salt that are out there, but probably that would just confuse you even more, so I am going to go with a classification of the origin of the most common types of salt, so you understand what you need to do to make the right choice for yourself and your loved ones.
Salt has been used for thousands of years and it can be considered the oldest form of seasoning. It’s not only used in cuisine; in Ayurveda it’s widely used as medicine, being part of Ayurvedic formulas that have been described in the classical texts. An example is hingvastaka, a famous herbal formula used to both promote digestion and remove any congestion in the GI tract.
The importance of salt for our health
The minerals in salt are highly beneficial and necessary for our health. Our modern medical system has come to demonize the use of salt in many situations. However, from an ayurvedic perspective, eliminating or reducing salt too much can have damaging consequences for our health. Ayurveda states we need all the 6 tastes in our diet in order to maintain good health.
You see, salt itself doesn’t tend to be the problem, as with many foods. When we use salt excessively, in the wrong way or in a form that is unnatural (table salt, I talk about this later on in this post). If we adhere to what nature offers us and with the right methods, salt can be highly beneficial for us and in many more ways than we could even imagine.
Ayurveda states the salty taste in one of the basic tasted needed to sustain life. Salt is necessary for our electrolyte balance, proper digestion, absorption and elimination of waste material (malas). Overall, the salty flavour pacifies Vata while increasing Pitta and Kapha dosha. It stimulates our appetite, increases the digestibility of our food, provides flexibility in the joints and aids digestion in such a way our digestive fire can clear our channels from toxins. At the same time, the salty taste calms the nerves and our emotions.
However, as I mentioned before, an excess intake or misuse of salt can have a damaging effect that ranges from skin problems (for instance, premature wrinkles), excessive thirst that cannot be remedied with an intake of water (this is the case with table salt), overall weakness and depletion, brain and eye problems and diseases of the cardiovascular system.
In general, Ayurveda doesn’t recommend we refrain from using salt. The ancient texts state we need to use it wisely and in the right combinations, according to our prakruti and the living conditions we find ourselves in. The body and mind adapt to the environment all the time, so we need to be smart about how we use our foods, including salt.
Now let’s take a look at the most common types of salt available today:
- Table salt. This type of salt is high in chemical anti-caking agents, conditioning and flow agents. It causes āma (toxins) which then circulate through the body. You will find table salt mostly in processed foods. The only mineral it provides the body with is sodium. Sodium causes dehydration on the cellular level together with potassium decrease. It causes dehydration that cannot be remedied with water intake as it will causes water retention more than anything else. Ayurveda considers it to be the most heating of all types of salt, irritating Pitta and Kapha dosha. Table salt increases the risk of hypertension, kidney disease and diseases related to the eyes, brain and heart.
- Sea salt. As one of the most commonly used type of salt, let’s just have a look at how it is made. There are two ways of gaining sea salt; the first one is to dry water in the sun. This is the traditional method that has been used across the planet for centuries. With this method, small crystals are left behind during the drying process. The natural type of sea salt is a good option for daily intake. However, if you buy sea salt that is obtained through desalination, you will also take in the chemicals that are used to separate the salt from the sea water. Sea salt moderately heats the body tissues, so while it still has a heating potency, it does so a lot less than table salt does. Sea salt is also used as a purgative and in colics. It does have a pungent post-digestive effect though, making it irritable to the colon when used the wrong way or in excess.
- Rock salt. Rock salt is recommended by Ayurveda as the best type of salt to include in your diet, medicine and even your baths. It is raw, unefined salt that is formed through the evaporation of ancient salt lakes. Often is it mined or collected from the surface by injecting water which pumps it upwards. The big difference between sea salt and rock salt is its vipaka (post-digestive effect). Rock salt has a sweet vipaka (the sweet taste relates to Kapha dosha), nourishing the body tissues. At the same time it’s the most suitable salt for Pitta dosha, as it is less heating compared to other types of salt. Rock salt also detoxifies and is therefore excellent for jala neti (cleansing of nasal passages with a neti pot), foot baths and the purification of your home.
Types of rock salt
The most common types of rock salt are white Himalayan rock salt, the famous pink Himalayan rock salt and black salt.
- Pink Himalayan salt. Contains the same 84 minerals found in the human body. The minerals in colloidal form are easy to absorb by our body cells. It also regulates blood volume, supporting our thyroid glands and adrenal function.
- White Himalayan salt (soma). Good for all three doshas, increases the digestive fire (agni), cools the liver and is beneficial for all 7 body tissues. It is called the queen of all salts according to Charaka Samhita (chapter 27, verse 300). This is therefore the type of salt that is considered to the best of all to use.
- Indian black salt. Volcanic rock salt which can be pinkish or greyish, according to where it’s harvested and how many trace minerals are in it. It has a sulfur and slightly sweet taste. It has a heating potency and can aid digestion when ground with lemon juice and ajwain.
In general, it is important to be mindful about your use of salt. The minerals are necessary for our body functions. But always moderate your salt intake and change your course of action according to what you need at a certain moment in your life. There is no one rule for all. Adapt your use of salt according to your state of health and consult with a qualified practitioner if you have doubts about your salt intake.
Whatever you do, avoid processed foods and junk food at all costs. Cook more and eat less outside, for you will never be sure about the type of salt that is used in your food. Overall you can expect companies to use the cheapest type of salt to prepare these type of foods, including additives that will support addictive behaviour to the products they sell.
Want to learn how to take control over your health by starting a diet that is right for you? Fill out my contact form and let’s talk about what Ayurveda can do for you.