Shake the Salt Habit

salt in a wooden bowl with a wooden scoop on a black table

Salt has been in the news lately, with the most up-to-date advice recommending that most of us scale back our sodium consumption to within the range of 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams per day (ask your healthcare provider for the best number for you to aim for). Need some perspective? A single teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 milligrams. Lowering sodium can be a difficult task, but it’s worth doing in order to protect your heart and maintain healthy blood pressure. (And in case your vanity is stronger than your willpower, remember that sodium causes the body to retain fluids, ie look and feel bloated!)

We challenge you to educate yourself about decreasing salt intake and take steps to lower sodium in your diet. Packaged foods are one of the biggest sources of sodium, so read the Nutrition Facts Label on your favorite items to find out how much sodium they contribute to your total intake. When looking at the label, keep in mind that 2,300 mg maximum recommendation and compare different products as you’ll often find big variations brand to brand.

Even better, switch to fresh, whole foods, which have only small amounts of naturally occurring sodium, and revamp your favorite recipes to highlight flavors other than salt and omitting salty ingredients such as dairy, condiments, bread, and pickled products. Experiment with herbs and spices, which contribute unique and delicious flavors without adding salt. A guide to these salt shakers:

Common Herbs and Spices:

  • Basil: This summer savory is typically found in its sweet-basil form, but there are many other varieties as well, such as lemon and Thai basil. Try fresh chopped in salads and sandwiches, or dried to season grilled fish or whole grain pilafs. Basil’s sweet properties also make it a unique, pleasant addition to desserts.
  • Cilantro: These leaves come from coriander seeds and have a lemony, herbaceous quality. Heat diminishes cilantro’s flavor, so it is most often used fresh in dishes such as Mexican salsas, south Asian salads and chutneys, and as a garnish.
  • Paprika: Made from dried bell and chili peppers, paprika is always ground into a powder, in varieties including tart, sweet, or smoky. Most commonly found in Eastern European and Spanish dishes, it contributes a bright red color and antioxidants in addition to flavor.
  • Rosemary: This flavorful evergreen plant grows in many climates and offers “needles” that are used fresh or dried. These may be stripped off the woody stem, chopped and included in dishes such as roasted or mashed root vegetables, or use the whole stem to infuse soups, stews, stocks, and roasts with its piney, aromatic fragrance, or even to skewer vegetable or meat kebabs.
  • Sage: A musky herb in the mint family, fresh or dried sage is commonly associated with Thanksgiving food such as stuffing, but it’s great year round. Its strong smell can help mellow other pungent aromas in dishes. Try it in a pesto in place of basil.

Less Common Herbs & Spices

  • Coriander: This dried seed has a distinct nutty, orange, and spicy taste that is different than the cilantro leaves that it produces. Available as a whole seed or in its ground form, coriander provides flavor to North African stews and Indian curries, and brings complexity to beer. Toasting the coriander brings out its flavor and aroma, so heat the seeds in a hot pan until browned and sprinkle atop grilled fish or sautéed greens.
  • Tarragon: An herb with lemon- and licorice-flavored leaves, tarragon is used most often in French cuisine for chicken, fish, and egg dishes and is available in fresh or dried leaf form. Topping a plate of sliced fruit such as peaches and cherries with fresh tarragon leaves is an unusual and delicious way to end a meal.
  • Saffron: Derived from a flower, saffron is a spice with a lengthy history of culinary uses. It’s one of the most expensive spices available and contributes a unique metallic vanilla taste and bright yellow color to dishes.
  • White Pepper: Made from the seed of the pepper plant with its dark colored skin removed, white pepper is subtler than its coarser black-pepper counterpart. It is available dried and ground into a fine powder and used to spice up salads, sauces, and dishes such as mashed potatoes when you desire a lighter flavor and colorless addition.