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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Note on Salt

I probably should have included a comment in yesterday's Cabbage Rolls recipe, that it was no typo that there is no salt added anywhere. Then I decided the subject of salt is important enough to have its own entry.

An article in the August 1, 2008, Woman's Day quoted our own Mayo Clinic with these statistics: 6% of our daily salt intake comes from what we add at the table and another 5% is added while cooking. Meanwhile, fully 77% comes from processed and already prepared food we buy at the supermarket. (I guess the remainder must come from the meals we eat out--the article doesn't give us info on the missing 12%!)

One of the ways that I have found to cut back at least a little on overall sodium levels in my recipes is to rely on all that salt in the processed ingredients. Spaghetti sauce is one of my favorite "convenience" foods, but almost all brands are high in sodium. There are only a few low sodium options, and these are both expensive and not always well-seasoned in other ways. However, I have learned never to add salt to any dish where I will be using spaghetti sauce until I have tasted the final product. For example, there is enough salt in the Cabbage Roll sauce to season the pound of meat and all the other ingredients as well.

Other sodium lowering tricks:

I never salt the water in which I cook pasta and often eliminate the salt in rice if the food being served over it will be high in salt--think of all those wonderful Chinese dishes that include very salty soy sauce.

Mexican food ingredients--salsa, enchilada sauce, canned beans--can be very high in salt but there are ways to get around this. If you prepare your own pinto and other beans (really very easy and something I'll be covering soon), don't add salt. Most cooks will tell you that salt added too early when cooking beans is a problem for getting them soft anyway. Don't salt the guacamole, and use fresh tomatoes whenever possible. Make taco meat with chili powder, oregano, and garlic and don't add any salt.

Unless you buy expensive (and often not too flavorful) low sodium cheese, you will be getting a lot of salt when you include cheese in your dishes. Try using aged cheddar instead of mild and you can cut the total amount of cheese and thus sodium--along with a lot of unnecessary fat. Stir some plain yogurt into your casseroles (hotdishes) along with a reduced amount of cheese and you'll have a creamy sauce without as much salt. Add more pepper or some extra seasoning (oregano, cumin, basil, etc.) to boost the flavor if necessary.

Never salt vegetables that to which you will be adding sauce. Skip the salt even for those that will be served steamed and plain. A little pepper, a favorite herb combination, even a dollop of yogurt might be enough to cover for the "missing" salt. If you butter your vegetables, try using unsalted butter.

Never add salt to scrambled or fried eggs. It may sound strange, but you might just find you like these better without. Even if you do add salt at the table, you probably will be able to get by with using less at this point, since you will be able to get that "salty" taste on the tongue from the grains added afterward.

A lot of pie and other fruit desserts include salt; just don't include it and see if anyone even notices. Sometimes a tiny amount of lemon juice or vinegar can enhance the flavor more than any salt would have.

In other baking, I long ago stopped putting added salt in anything that includes baking powder or baking soda--those both already have plenty of sodium in them, and I would guess you will not miss the salt at all. If you really worry about the final result being too bland, add a few extra drops of vanilla or lemon juice or an extra shake of cinnamon or other spices already included in the recipe.

Don't however, eliminate salt in any yeast breads. Here, salt is not just a seasoning but also a control over the growth of the yeast. If you really have to eliminate salt from your diet, you may need to do a little research and testing to find an acceptable recipe for salt-free bread. I found one recipe at http://www.lowsodiumcooking.com/free/HoneyWheatBread.htm but have not tested it myself to know if it will work.


Above all, of course, try to use fresh or unadorned frozen foods as much as possible. The more of these you use in your recipes, the more you can "dilute" the saltiness of any processed ingredients you may include. For those processed ingredients you do use and for which you can't afford salt-free substitutes, try a few of these hints to lower your sodium intake without blowing the food budget.

June 4, 2012 update:

Here is a very interesting article on the topic of salt:

We only think we know the truth about salt

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