There was a time that salt was so rare and valuable that no one dared waste it. Centuries ago, salt was even used as currency. Today, however, scarcity of salt is no longer an issue. In fact, an over abundance of salt in the food supply is damaging to our health.The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that most people limit their salt (sodium) intake to just 2,300 milligrams – about 1 teaspoon – a day. People who have or are at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, are 51 or over or are African American should aim for only 1,500 milligrams a day. While it’s not that difficult to control how much salt you cook with or sprinkle on food, it is very challenging to avoid salt in the processed foods that make up a great portion of the American diet. Most people consume double, or even triple, the amount of sodium the body needs. For example, just 8 ounces of tomato soup can have 1,200 milligrams of sodium.
How can you become “salt smart?” Read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list on canned and packaged foods and make lower-sodium choices. Cook more meals at home using less processed foods and limiting high sodium ingredients such as salt.
Remember that salt-free does not mean taste-free. When a recipe calls for salt, replace it with another herb or spice. Here are some other flavoring ideas:
- Sprinkle grated citrus zest (the outer colorful layer of the rind) on salads and vegetables
- Toast nuts in a moderate oven until lightly browned and aromatic. Add to salads and vegetables. (Careful! Nuts burn easily).
- Caramelize onions and other aromatic vegetables before adding them to soups and stews.
- Make mashed potatoes with low-fat milk, unsalted margarine and roasted garlic, curry powder or paprika.
- When preparing a Mexican recipe, such as guacamole or filling for tacos and burritos, add cumin and lime juice instead of salt.
- When making oven-baked fries, sweet potato spears or onion rings, sprinkle with garlic powder and cumin or curry powder.
- Add a dash of chili powder to corn
- Simmer carrots in cinnamon and nutmeg
- When cooking with cheese, opt for fresh mozzarella or cheeses labeled “low-sodium.”
- Be adventurous… experiment with a variety of herbs in food preparation to determine combinations pleasing to your tastes
- Try a commercial salt-free seasoning blend (such as Mrs. Dash), or make your own mix with a recipe from the American Heart Association
March is National Nutrition Month.