Author : Chandralal Kalansooriya
"Life is not possible without salt", "Salt without minerals is dangerous", "Salt is harmful for those who suffer from High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)", all these are common notions about salt that are widespread in our society.
Today, there is a growing concern among the medical community that salt is a threat to human health. But at the same time, it is also noteworthy that low salt diets too, are dangerous.
Sea salt is mainly composed of two minerals, Sodium (30.6%) and Chloride (55%). Among the other minerals found in sea salt Magnesium (3.7%), Sulfate (7.7%), Calcium (1.2%) and Potassium (1.1%) are noteworthy.
Sodium Chloride is an aggressive substance. It biochemically seeks equalizing natural counterparts, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and other minerals (trace elements), so that the body pH value can always remain near neutral (the normal body pH being slightly alkaline, 7.4). These natural counterparts demonstrate, from a biophysical standpoint, specific frequency patterns which ensure the geometric structures in the human body. When these structures are missing, human beings are without energy and are lifeless. Salt should not be used to add flavour to food, but for its vibration pattern, which is similar to human body.
Since of late Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) has emerged as a popular flavouring agent, (pathetically, similar to salt). MSG is made up of two chemicals, Sodium and Glutamate. It does not bring any nutritional value to the foods since no minerals are available. MSG’s salty nature can damage the sensitivity of the taste buds of the tongue which will result in further addiction to salt.
According to the Customs data, Sri Lanka has imported 1,772 tons of MSG worth Rs. 316 million in 2009 and 2,740 tons of MSG worth Rs. 499 million in 2013. The use of MSG in food can lead to NCDs, cancers, neurological diseases and attention deficit disorder (ADA)/ attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also known to give rise to a condition lately described as "Chinese restaurant syndrome", which include symptoms such as headache, chest pain, burning pain in and around mouth and flushing. MSG is freely available in Sri Lanka and is used widely.
MSG is not covered under Food Act No. 26 of 1980 or the regulations of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution. MSG is classified under HS code 29224220 and E621. But the Sea Salt imported to Sri Lanka is classified under HS code 25010090. The European Union classifies MSG as a food additive permitted in certain foods, subject to quantitative limits. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, food vendors commonly disregard these safety limits and use MSG liberally.
Sea salt can be categorized into two groups, "sea salt" directly obtained from sea water through a manufacturing process as done in Sri Lanka and "rock salt" which is also "sea salt" obtained from deep underground. According to studies done by various institutions "rock salt" (Himalayan pink salt), which contains 84 minerals would be helpful in maintaining human health.
The "sea salt" for human consumption has been regularized by the Govt. Gazette No. 1405/3, dated 11.08.2005 under the Food Act No. 26 of 1980 as the Food (Iodization of Salt) Regulations which came into operation w.e.f. 01.12.2005. Importation of "sea salt" to Sri Lanka was originally regularized under SS 79/1987 and was later amended by SLS 79/2014. According to these regulations, "sea salt", whether imported or manufactured in Sri Lanka for human consumption, should be "white or off-white" in colour.
(Please see the vivid colours of salts available in international market).
In the definition of SLS 79/2014 regulation, the "rock salt", which is unrefined, has also been included. But the inclusion of "rock salt" in the regulation is merely a "cut & paste" quote from the "Codex International Standards" (WHO standards), having not considered about the physical qualities of the different varieties of salts available internationally. The colour of salt, "white or off white" remains in SLS 79/2014 as it was in SS 79/1987(29 years ago) without any change. Due to this reason, no sea salt/rock salt will be permitted for importation to Sri Lanka.
It is a pity that Sri Lankans have been deprived of using these nutritious sea salts/underground sea salt (rock salt), which are available internationally. This has happened due to the ignorance on the part of the authorities of the wide ranging colours of rock salt. For example, Celtic Salt which is Grey in colour, contains all the sea minerals needed by the human body. The rock salt "Himalayan Pink Salt" is named after its colour and the place from where it is harvested. Its colour, pink is due to high Iron (Fe) content, i.e. 38.6 ppm (mg/kg) and it contains 84 minerals. Both these kinds of salt are beneficial to the human body. The colour of the salt is no indication that it contains any impurity. Especially, the Himalayan Pink Salt is absolutely uncontaminated and contains no colourings, no anti-caking agents, no bleaching or no preservatives. It is organic.
As a developing country, Sri Lanka may not have enough money and technology to conduct researches to explore the benefits of the minerals available in these varieties of salt since they involve the use of high-end technology. But the sorry story of our country is that we hardly ever study the research papers published by the reputed organizations/universities working on this subject, thus, keeping us in the dark about the current knowledge and advancements in this area.
Since it is very difficult to convince the relevant officials about the importance of minerals in salts and the benefits thereof, the Ministry of Health will have to face a heavy financial burden in future due to the unforeseen and uncontrollable increase of NCDs. The officials who make rules and regulations should have a broader sense and a better understanding about the interlacing aspects before the regulations are amended in order to deliver the best to make the general public healthier. Now we have come to a pass where the contamination of heavy metals like Arsenic (As), Mercury (Hg), Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Beryllium (Be), Aluminum (Al) and Uranium(Ur) have become a serious health problem of the country.
Still our country is affected by iron deficiency (with or without anaemia). In fact, iron deficiency without anemia is more prevalent than iron deficiency with anemia. In general, anemia accounts for only one-third of the problems, caused by iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can give rise to "pica" which is the abnormal craving for substances other than food. Pica in Sinhala is called "PANDUWA". While appreciating the measures taken by the Ministry of Health, it is worth to mention that maintaining body chemistry would help to balance all minerals in the human body. It is pointless to concentrate only on iron, ignoring all the other important minerals in the body. "Rock salt" (Himalayan pink salt) is the only alternative for this purpose though it is not permitted to import to Sri Lanka, strangely due to its colour pink, which ironically proves the high iron content this compound has.
With all these facts about sea salt, it is also important to mention that the correct word for sea salt is "common salt". We, islanders, call it "sea salt" because it is directly manufactured from the sea water. But we should keep in mind that salt is one of the most abundant gifts of the "Mother Nature", being found in almost every country of every quarter of the globe; either existing in mineral springs or lakes, under the surface of the ground or rising from underground into mountains. All these "salts" are again ancient "sea water" deposited millions and millions years ago. For example, Wieliczka (Williska) salt mines, near Cracow in Southern Poland, are 6691 feet long, 1115 feet broad and 743 feet deep. In Spain, near Cordova, there is a mountain of common salt which is 500 feet high and nearly three miles in circumference. All these salts are called "rock salt" because they are obtained from the ground or from the earth crust. But it is a pity that the importance of rock salt is ignored by those who live in islands since their mentality is glued to "sea salt". Sadly, this ignorance prevails as the authorities who are responsible for making decisions regarding these aspects either remain mum or clueless about the advancing technology and expanding wealth of knowledge.