Pink Himalayan rock salt is an amazing cultural phenomenon. Ten years ago, you might find a bag of it in a specialty store, but it was hard enough to find that it lent an air of illustrious sophistication to any dinner party. Now, you can buy products called ‘pink Himalayan rock salt’ in literally every supermarket for only four or five times the cost of generic table salt.
Why is pink salt so popular? Well, partly it’s because it’s pretty. Nothing like a dish full of faintly glittering crystals to glam up an otherwise boring spread. But even more than that, it’s because Himalayan salt is, according to health gurus from around the globe, a miracle cure with dozens of benefits. It can cure respiratory disease, detoxify the body, balance blood sugars, and generally stave off ill health like a shield made from immortality itself.
Sadly, this is all nonsense. Pink Himalayan rock salt is no better for your health than boring regular table salt. It may actually be a bit worse.
There are literally dozens of health claims made about Himalayan salt, from the slightly wrong, like that it contains extra minerals vital to ongoing wellbeing, to the very wrong, like that it can cure asthma because it’s vaguely magical.
Usually, when we talk about health claims, we can point to some evidence that they rely on. Someone, somewhere has taken the time to run an experiment to see if the benefits being claimed of a treatment are actually a thing and not just the hopeful imaginings of salt salespeople from Pakistan.
When it comes to pink salt, that’s not the case.
You see, Himalayan salt has never been medically studied. After searching through a number of academic databases — Pubmed, Scibase, Google Scholar — I could not find a single study looking at whether there are any health benefits to Himalayan salt at all.
There are no plausible biological reasons why Himalayan salt would be better than your bog-standard table variety, and with absolutely no evidence that it does anything other than look pretty, it’s pretty safe to conclude that it’s totally worthless medically.
So where are all the health claims coming from?
When you look online, there are basically three justifications for the health claims around pink Himalayan salt:
- It’s ‘natural’
- It contains special minerals
So let’s think about each of these points, because they’re worth considering.
Himalayan rock salt is mined largely in the Khewra salt mine in Pakistan*. Many of the claims that it is ‘natural’ spring from the fact that it is hand-mined and lovingly unprocessed by evil modern methods.
To a certain extent, this is true — much of the work in the Khewra mine appears to be done by hand, after the government-owned company that runs the mine sold off all of their machines in 1998 to save money. It turns out that it’s cheaper to pay workers $50 a month to carve out salt in dangerous conditions than to maintain modern machinery.
However, the Khewra mine does use blasting and drilling, just in a much more limited way than most modern mines. The term ‘natural’ is a bit useless anyway — all commercial salt is natural, we rarely synthesize it — but if you wanted the most natural of the bunch you’d probably go for an option that hadn’t been blasted out of a wall by an underpaid miner in Pakistan.
The second claim is actually true — Himalayan salt contains traces of a range of minerals that are not found in most other salts. The problem is that most of these aren’t that great for human health, and even if they were they’re found in tiny quantities in the salt.
For example, Himalayan salt contains zinc, at about 2.5 parts per million. That means it has 0.0025 milligrams of zinc per gram of salt. The recommended daily intake of zinc for a human adult is around 10 milligrams a day (12mg for men and 8mg for women), so to get this from Himalayan salt you’d have to eat about 5 kilograms of Himalayan salt.
Every. Single. Day.
The minerals in Himalayan salt also include lovely things like arsenic and lead, although again in such tiny quantities that it’s probably fine to eat. It does highlight, however, the fact that you probably shouldn’t trust claims that Himalayan salt is going to work wonders for your health.
I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time on the last reason that people claim Himalayan salt can cure all disease. Suffice to say that, if you think that a hunk of rock with a lamp in it can cure asthma and lung cancer, you should absolutely run a trial on that because it’d be a medical breakthrough.
The idea that Himalayan salt has some sort of wonderful power that is not present in other salts has no backing, has never been demonstrated, and is basically total nonsense.
Some chefs swear by pink Himalayan salt because of the taste. Some people love it because of its colour and the vague air of superiority it gives them. Still others use it because the lamps add a certain je ne sais qoi to a Pinterest board.
Just don’t use it because you think it has health benefits. There is no reason to believe that salt blasted out of a Punjab mine is any better for your health than any of the other options. It may have a few extra minerals, but if you’re rich enough to be buying fancy salt you probably don’t need those anyway. It also is usually not iodized, which means that you might be missing out on an important additive that prevents serious health problems.
Buy Himalayan salt because it’s pretty, if you want. Just don’t buy it for your health.
It’s almost certainly a total waste of time.
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*Note: depending on how you define mountain ranges, pink Himalayan salt may not be mined in the Himalayas, which is a wonderful fact.