Sunday, 30 June 2013

The small miracle of salt-free (well almost)

Here she goes, with some moral lesson about salt. Perhaps Jesus' words about salt? Or an analogy of Christians being salt in the world?

No, I just want to talk about the white stuff in a shaker on your table.

Less salt or no salt is important for all of us, but for heart patients, it's a must. Excess salt causes water retention, which makes the heart work harder. If your heart is already compromised, this isn't good.

But how much do we need? And how much is too much?

"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you're sensitive to the effects of sodium. If you aren't sure how much sodium your diet should include, talk to your doctor or dietitian." 1

The bottom line is, even without ever picking up a salt shaker, most of us use too much. It's in everything, and difficult to eliminate.

When Bill was sick, I began to learn how to cook without salt. It's difficult, and I made many mistakes. I learned that a little salt in some things makes them palatable. Salt-free butter tastes like lard. Bread without salt tastes like sawdust. Salt-free chicken broth is so tasteless, you may as well save your money and use water.

It's not the small amount of salt in butter or bread that's the problem. The first step I took was to eliminate all processed meat from our diet. With that went all packaged soups, and the crackers that went with them. I learned to read labels, and compared things like salad dressings and other condiments.

I learned to make decisions. We decided reduced reduced-salt ketchup tasted acceptable, but nothing but the real thing would do for mayonnaise. (I  make a wonderful tasting mayo, but it does have some salt in it.) We ate bacon less, but it was regular bacon. I can't live without cheese, but found stronger cheeses have wonderful flavour and less can be used. A small handful of grated cheese enhances an omelet without adding a lot of salt.

Now that I was cooking most meats, pastas and egg dishes from their raw form, I had to learn to make them tasty. I discovered dried vegetable flakes that spiced up most dishes. They contain a bit of salt, but also many other flavours, and the combined effect is delicious. I discovered fresh herbs, and a whole new world of flavours. I discovered hot sauce--something I didn't know existed and wouldn't have thought to try. In small amounts, it gives just the right tang to a bland dish. We bought a pepper mill, and I learned to love fresh ground pepper in foods.

I learned to use some items differently. I settled on several low-salt salad dressings we liked, and used a small amount in stir fries for flavour. I flavoured a tuna sandwich them, and left the mayo in the fridge.
I'm not an expert, and I still have the occasional failure, but our salt intake is low. We have trained our taste buds, so that when we eat in a restaurant, I find the food too salty. We have learned to appreciate other flavours. The use of salt is often a lazy way to flavour food.

 We don't own a salt shaker.

I challenge you. Start to reduce the salt in your cooking, and making salt-free choices. Your heart, blood pressure and kidneys will thank you, and you may just save yourself from a world of grief as you age.

Your tongue will thank you, too. It's been pickled into a salty haze. Wake it up with fresh basil and a dab of hot sauce. There's a whole world of tastes out there, just waiting for you!


  1. It is amazing how much sodium is in everyday food, not just processed food, even cantaloupe has sodium! When Dave had his stroke, we aimed for less than 1000 mg every day, and I wrote down everything we ate and looked it up in a nutrition book. Since then it has become second nature, but be careful, low sodium and low fat often mean more sugars! And there are still things that need a little sprinkle of salt to make them perfect like nice runny yolked eggs on toast! - Sandi

  2. You are definately on to something with reducing salt. I have been aware of salt intake for years and a label reader. It is amazing how many items I put back on the grocery shelf after I read the label!! If it is processed in any way, you can be sure it is high in salt. Yuck.