Nearly half of all US adults have high blood pressure, and globally around 40% do. The link between salt, high blood pressure, and poor health outcomes is so compelling that many people try to avoid it altogether by using salt substitutes. Unfortunately, high sodium is found in almost every processed food and condiment we eat. This includes ketchup, hot sauces, BBQ sauces, salad dressings, salsas, hummus, fermented foods, and just about anything else that makes food taste good. For people trying to limit their sodium intake, it can be challenging trying to add more flavor to bland foods.
Fortunately, there are a few salt alternatives available on the market that add zest to food while avoiding the sodium.
One of the most popular and highly marketed salt alternatives is potassium chloride. Because potassium is chemically related to sodium, it stimulates the same taste buds as salt does, imparting a similarly salty flavor to food but without affecting blood pressure. Although potassium chloride doesn’t taste exactly like salt, it can help people lower their sodium intake without sacrificing salty flavor, and it’s considered safe for most. However, people with chronic kidney disease typically have difficulty regulating potassium levels, and if they get too much potassium in their diet it can build up in the blood to harmful levels. This may lead to fatigue and nausea, and in the worst case, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, and heart palpitations. This situation is called hyperkalemia, and kidney patients are often advised to limit not just sodium intake but potassium as well.
Sodium, potassium, and chloride are the body’s three major electrolytes and it’s important to consume all three in moderate amounts. Sodium contributes to regulating blood pressure and volume, transmitting nerve impulses, and regulating blood and tissue pH levels. Potassium is present in all bodily tissues and is essential for normal cell function by maintaining cellular fluid volumes and electrochemical gradients. Chloride performs similar functions as sodium and potassium, and in addition is needed for digestive function; it combines with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Together in balance, these three electrolytes are absolutely essential to life and health.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get sufficient levels of all three from a healthy diet. Unfortunately, however, many people consume too much sodium and too little potassium because their diet includes too many processed foods and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables. Although potassium salt substitutes might be one way to remedy this situation, we think a much better choice is to use seaweed granules, such as those found in our MCSV Sea Seasonings®. Sea Seasonings contain less sodium than the same quantity of table salt, and they’re also rich in potassium and other mineral salts. Below we cover six reasons why seaweed is a great salt substitute for most people.
1 - Seaweed naturally contains iodine
Iodine is an essential micronutrient but one that’s often lacking in a diet of land vegetables and animal products. Iodine is naturally abundant in seawater and in soils near the ocean but typically scarce in inland soils. The further away from the ocean you get, the more common iodine deficiency becomes - or so it was throughout history.
In the early 1920s iodine deficiency was recognized as a serious global public health concern. The solution was to add it to table salt, and today the use of iodized table salt has greatly reduced the incidence of the various conditions caused by iodine deficiency. The prevalence of goiters, an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by iodine deficiency, is now rare in the United States and other places.
It’s unlikely, though possible, that reducing your intake of iodized salt will affect your iodine levels. Fortunately, seaweed is one of the best natural sources of iodine on the planet. A small amount of seaweed or Sea Seasonings® contains as much iodine or even more than a similar quantity of iodized salt. For those who aren’t avoiding salt, our Sea Salt with Sea Veg is naturally iodized with sea vegetables. This salt can be used just like regular salt and ¼ tsp contains about 40% of the RDI for iodine.
2 - Seaweed adds flavor
The flavor of seaweed varies depending on the species. Brown seaweeds such as kelp, Alaria, rockweed, and bladderwrack are known for adding umami, the savory, somewhat salty essence found in cheese, fish sauce, and liquid amines. These seaweeds are great salt substitutes in soups, stir-fry, and recipes calling for bouillon.
Red seaweeds such as dulse and laver can add a nutty and rich umami flavor, while green seaweeds such as sea lettuce can add a slightly bitter and salad green-like flavor. The diversity of seaweed flavors creates many opportunities for the creative cook! We offer all of these in milled forms, such as granules, flakes, or powder, making it convenient to add small quantities in lieu of salt to just about any dish.
3 - Seaweed contains other mineral salts
One of the benefits of using seaweed as a salt substitute is that seaweeds contain many other mineral salts beside potassium and sodium. For example, seaweed is a great source of magnesium salts.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is often deficient in the average diet. The National Institute of Health estimates that 48% of people in the United States do not consume an adequate amount of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can lead to subtle symptoms such as muscle twitches, fatigue, and mental health issues. For those very deficient in the mineral, more serious issues include weak bones and heart problems.
Magnesium is just one of many important minerals found at respectable levels in even small amounts of seaweed. For example, just four grams of rockweed granules (or about one heaping tsp) provides 8% of the daily requirement of magnesium, 4% calcium, 5% iron, 3% manganese, and 2% zinc.
4 - Seaweed is a whole food
As isolated minerals, table salt and potassium chloride lack the fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals needed to support our body’s natural life functions. Although vitamin and mineral supplements may have their place, nutritional health experts generally agree that nutrients are most potent and often better absorbed when they come from whole food. Whole foods contain hundreds of other nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants. When it comes to nutrition, the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
5 - Seaweed is shelf-stable
A great feature of Sea Seasonings® or most dried seaweed is an extended shelf life. This is due to the abundance of mineral salts and the very low water activity of dried seaweed. Water activity is a measure of the amount of available water for microbes such as yeasts and bacteria to survive. Most of our seaweed is sold with a water activity below the survivable minimum for microbes. Like table salt, you don’t really need to worry about seaweed going bad.
The “best by date” on our products is intended to be a guide for those customers who want to eat only the freshest of foods. The truth is, though, our seaweeds and Sea Seasonings® hold their nutrition and flavor long past the best by date. The flavor of some sea vegetables, such as sugar kelp and Alaria, actually improves with age! Our blog post “This Old Kelp” discusses this issue in more detail.
6 - Seaweed is easy to use - a little goes a long way!
It’s a common misconception that you need make a meal around the seaweed. In reality, seaweed can be treated like any vegetable or your favorite herb. Making a soup? Throw some kelp into the pot! Want to season a baked potato? Sprinkle some dulse granules on top! Seaweed’s versatility makes it an exciting food!
Dried seaweed adds nutrition as well as flavor. Just a small amount added to any dish can add meaningful levels of minerals, iodine, and dietary fiber. This makes seaweed and Sea Seasonings® much more than just another salt substitute!