The report from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) and UK consumer magazine Which? found that although sodium chloride accounts for nearly 100% of all rock and sea salts, in the same way it does regular table salt, more than one in four (28%) of consumers believe that rock and sea salts are healthier alternatives to table salt.
The report concluded that with prices for gourmet sea salts almost always more than table salt – with some high end products found to be 22 times more expensive – such products are “just a more pricey way of damaging our health,” – despite on pack claims that the products are ‘natural’ and ‘contain minerals’.
Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH noted that the use of rock salt could actually cause added dangers because “crystal sizes are much larger and don’t taste as salty, [meaning] more salt is consumed.”
He added that reducing salt intake by just by one gram per day could prevent more than 6,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks per year, in the UK alone.
Which? chief policy adviser Sue Davies added that it is also calling on food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in foods, noting that “we'll be monitoring their progress over the coming months."
As part of the joint report, various types of gourmet salt were measure for their sodium chloride content, and compared to a standard table salt. The results revealed that all contained just as much sodium chloride as each other, and are therefore just as damaging to health, said the researchers.
However, according to a Which? member survey, consumers who buy rock or sea salt cite reasons such as believing they are healthier (24%) or more natural (39%) than table salt.
Although the rock and sea salt cost more than table salt the Which? consumer survey found that 46% of people who buy salt think it's worth paying extra for.
"Many of us are trying to reduce the amount of salt in our diet, but our research shows that people are needlessly spending more money on 'premium' salt as they often believe it's healthier than traditional table salt,” said Davies, of Which?
The report said that, despite labels that may claim otherwise, gourmet salts are not a good source of essential minerals – adding that vitamins and minerals should be taken in from a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
It added that the belief that rock salts taste better or stronger, and thus require less, is also a misconception, with the research team noting that there is no evidence to suggest truth in such statements. In fact they said that many rock salts have larger crystals which may mean consumers use more compared to a finer grain salt.