Himalayan salt is considered one of the purest salts in the world.

Made from the 200 million-year-old remnants of an ancient sea, the salt was buried beneath layers of lava, snow, and ice. As the Himalayan mountains grew over it, the salt was protected from pollution and preserved for millennia.

Today it’s mined by hand from the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan, and many believe it has extraordinary health benefits.

1. Contains minerals

The delicate color of pink Himalayan salt comes from impurities. These impurities are known as trace minerals. The salt’s pink hue is from traces of iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Himalayan salt contains almost 80 different minerals, many of which are essential to the body. These minerals add to the salt’s distinct taste and texture.

However, Himalayan salt is 97 percent sodium chloride, the mineral we call “salt.” The other 3 percent is full of trace minerals that are in such small concentrations that they are unlikely to provide any nutritional benefit.

2. Less processed

Table salt is heavily processed and contains many additives to get it to be a consistent shape and texture. Table salt is heated to eliminate minerals, and most include anticaking agents to prevent clumping. After iodine is added, the salt may also be bleached to give it its pure white hue.

Unlike table salt, Himalayan salt is unprocessed. It’s not heated and nothing is added to it before it’s sold. This means that its mineral concentrations and natural color are preserved.

3. Less sodium

Himalayan salt’s larger crystals mean it has less sodium per teaspoon. While the body needs sodium to work properly, too much can be a bad thing. Excessive sodium in the body may lead to high blood pressure and a dangerous buildup of fluid, primarily for people with congestive heart failure, kidney disease, or cirrhosis of the liver.

Most people have trouble staying under the recommended 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults eat no more than 1,500 mg, or a little over 1/2 teaspoon, daily.

You can reduce your sodium intake slightly by substituting Himalayan salt for table salt. The saltier taste and larger crystals may add up to using less on your foods. A quarter teaspoon of table salt contains 600 mg while the same portion of Himalayan salt contains around 420 mg. Note, though, that most sodium in our diets come from processed and prepared foods, not added salt from the saltshaker.

4. Antimicrobial

Salt has been used for centuries to preserve food, but it was only recently discovered that the body uses sodium to help fight off infection. Salt accumulates in the skin around spots of infection and helps to ward off bacteria, according to a recent study. The study also found that a higher intake of sodium leads to stronger immune responses and faster healing times in mice.

Eating Himalayan or any other salt may help boost your immune response and create a barrier to infection. It may also help ward off bacteria and fungus when applied topically or added to a bath.

5. Aids hydration

Sodium is vital for maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the body. It’s essential for sustaining electrolyte levels and it helps keep you hydrated.

Sodium also helps to transmit nerve signals and aids in muscle function. When you’re sweating excessively, you lose both water and sodium. This drop can trigger painful muscle cramps and other symptoms. Proper hydration and sodium intake, especially when sweating excessively, can help prevent cramping and other complications.

6. Balances pH

In addition to helping to regulate the amount of fluid in the blood, sodium also helps to balance the body’s pH. Sodium neutralizes acids in the body and helps maintain the proper pH throughout the blood and tissues.

Who should avoid it

If your doctor has advised a sodium-restricted diet, you should continue to carefully watch your sodium intake and limit your use of all salt, according to the Mayo Clinic. People react differently to sodium, and some people are prone to high blood pressure if they take in too much.

Most people are getting more than twice the American Heart Association’s recommendation for sodium each day. Instead of adding Himalayan salt to your diet, be sure to swap it for more concentrated sodium like table salt, and use it in limited quantities.

People who are iodine-deficient should also be careful with Himalayan salt. Iodine is added to most table salt to help increase the amount of the essential nutrient that people get. Iodine is vital to maintaining a healthy thyroid. Low iodine levels can lead to hormone problems and abnormal growth and development. While Himalayan salt may have naturally occurring iodine, it’s unlikely to be enough for those who are deficient.

The takeaway

While Himalayan salt can be a delicious, colorful addition to your meals, it’s not a miracle food. There’s no current research showing that it has exceptional nutritional or health benefits. Despite containing a wide variety of minerals, there just isn’t a high enough concentration of anything other than sodium chloride in Himalayan salt to make a nutritional impact.

The pure, unprocessed salt is free from additives and it may give some people peace of mind. But that reassurance comes with a high cost: Himalayan salt can be 20 times more expensive than generic table salt.

Himalayan salt can be a great substitute for small-grain table salt. When used in moderation, it may lower your salt intake. However, no matter what kind of salt you eat, too much can be harmful. Roughly 90 percent of Americans consume too much salt. Be aware of high concentrations of salt in processed foods and sprinkle Himalayan salt at home with care.