3 quick & easy ways to reduce your salt intake

Researching my last post, 3 “salt/sodium facts” stayed with me:

  1. Adults 51 years or younger who are in good health (and not African American) should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. That is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of table salt.
  2. African American adults of all ages, other adults over 51 years, and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should limit sodium consumption to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
  3. The average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day.
teaspoon of salt is recommended daily sodium limit

As I cooked and ate my way through the weekend (being food-centered does come naturally to me, alas), I realized that I normally use and consume too much salt without giving it a second thought.  I’m nowhere close to going on a salt-free diet, but it became a weekend of "mindful salting."

Here are 3 of My Favorite Strategies to Reduce Salt Intake: 

  1. Find out actual sodium content - don't rely on assumptions
  2. Use coarser, less dense salt
  3. Start with less, then add or substitute other flavors

Find Out Actual Sodium Content – Don’t Rely on Assumptions

1st surprise of my salt conscious weekend – There is less sodium (95 mg) in a snack size bag of Utz potato chips than in a regular size Snickers bar (140 mg). 

So? – I assumed that salted chips are loaded with sodium.  When I realized that they aren't (and aren't otherwise devastatingly unhealthy), I ate the chips in a box lunch without too much guilt.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating eating them every day.  But once in a while, they aren't going to do any major damage.

2nd surprise - The  “whole grain waffles” in Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook have about as much sodium per gram/ounce as Eggo brand frozen waffles.  Because the Katzen waffles are much heavier than Eggos, on a per serving basis, you get more than twice as much sodium from the homemade ones as from the lighter Eggo waffles.  I think of homemade food as healthier than prepared food.  But in terms of sodium content, the Katzen recipe, and many other waffle recipes I checked this morning, are actually less healthy than frozen waffles. 

So? – I halved the salt in the Katzen recipe and doubt that my brunch company noticed the difference. 

Read Labels - Sodium Content Can Differ Widely by Brand

Pasta sauce is a staple of many quick dinners.  I compared 3 brands of tomato basil prepared tomato sauces (½ cup serving size.)

Ragu Sweet Tomato Basil has 320 mg sodium

Newman’s Own Tomato & Basil Bombolina Sauce has 520 mg

Buitoni Tomato Herb Parmesan (refrigerated) has 790 mg

So? – Sodium content is certainly not the only consideration in deciding whether to buy prepared sauce, and if so, which brand.  But knowing that the most expensive, fanciest of the 3 has the most sodium makes me less inclined to buy Buitoni sauce and more willing to give Ragu a shot in a blind taste test. 

Use Coarser, Less Dense Salt 

Bonnie Benwick, Washington Post Interim Food Editor, got me thinking about which type of salt to use when she gave a bunch of great cooking tips in a presentation at the 2012 Washington DC International Wine & Food Festival.  She pointed out that Diamond Kosher salt crystals are bigger than table or fine sea salt crystals.  Therefore, if a recipe calls for salt measured by volume (teaspoon or fraction) – as most American recipes do - using Diamond Kosher salt instead of table or fine sea salt means that you’ll end up with less salt/sodium.  Why specify Diamond kosher salt?  Although Morton Kosher salt is less dense than table salt (i.e. regular Morton's salt, either idozed or not), it is denser than Diamond Kosher salt.  

1 teaspoon(tsp) of table salt = 1½ tsp Morton Kosher = 2 tsp of Diamond Kosher

Of course, the same principle applies no matter what the brand or type.  So using less dense, coarse sea salt instead of the same amount (by volume) of fine sea salt, will also reduce your sodium intake. 

comparing fine to coarse salt

Start with Less Salt, Then Add or Substitute Other Flavors

Your tastes can change unexpectedly or you can change them consciously.  When it comes to how much salt we use, it's a matter of habit and tolerance.  

Growing up, my friend John loved his mom’s spaghetti sauce.  Decades later, his memory of the sauce was that it was heavenly - and that's how he described the sauce to his new wife as he prepared it for her.  To his surprise, they found the sauce so salty that John ended up throwing it away.  When John told me the story recently, he laughed, remembering how his taste (and tolerance) for salt had gradually diminished, unrecognized until he tasted the spaghetti sauce as an adult. 

If you want to get used to less salty food, use less salt during preparation and add more only as needed.  Gradually, you’ll find that you can reduce the total amount of salt you use. For vegetables, whether steamed, roasted or boiled, try adding a bit of fresh lemon juice instead of some or all of the salt you might otherwise have used. 

lemon is a good substitute for salt in seasoning vegetables

Have you become more conscious of your salt/sodium intake?  If so, how do you reduce the salt in foods you prepare and eat?

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