Do you think using less salt or following a low-sodium diet means bland, boring foods? You can flavor food with less salt with these four tips.
Because bland, boring food. No way. that will never work, and we both know it.
If you are reading this, I’m guessing that means you are likely cooking at home. I have some good news for you.
Only 6% of the salt that the average American eats comes from home cooked meals and only 5% comes from that saltshaker you keep on the table. A whopping 71% of salt comes from foods that are processed and packaged or from restaurants. 71%!
So, give yourself a high five for cooking at home! You are already drastically reducing your sodium and are probably not one of the average Americans who eats over 3,400 milligrams of salt a day.
For context, 2,300 milligrams or less is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams or less. At 3,400 milligrams a day, we are overshooting this by a lot.
Why would you want to eat a low sodium diet?
Wonder why you may want to reduce how much salt you eat? To keep it simple, water follows salt.
When you eat a lot of salt, water comes along to dilute that salt and restore balance in your body.
This means that salt and water end up in your bloodstream in the form of a lot of extra fluid. This extra fluid can increase blood pressure and make your heart work must harder to push all that extra fluid around your body. This increases heart disease and stroke risk. If this is a concern for you, see Risk Factors for Heart Disease or Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms.
And this can also show up on the scale for those paying attention to weight.
This can be really confusing and defeating when your pants get tight and the scale goes up and you think you should have lost some weight – and you may have lost weight, you just aren’t seeing it on the scale because of all that salt you recently ate.
Okay, let’s get to it – how can you flavor food with less salt or eat a low sodium diet – and still enjoy delicious and flavorful foods that you love?
Option 1. Use herbs and spices instead of salt.
Search online for “flavor foods with less salt” or “spice and food pairings” and you will get lists of which herbs and spices pair well with which types of foods. For example, did you know tarragon pairs well with chicken? And garlic powder boosts the flavor on everything!
Just be mindful when you buy to choose jars that say, for example garlic or garlic powder and not garlic salt. You can also look at the ingredients to be sure salt or sodium is not in the bottle.
Other ideas are to use herb-infused oils, spice rubs, or mix these seasonings with yogurts or jams to marinate meats or toss with roasted vegetables.
Option 2. Use citrus juice and zest.
Juice can be transformed into marinades and dressings.
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice on vegetables really brings up the flavor.
Zest, which you get from using a fine grater on the outside of citrus to get jus the outer, colored layer of the peel, gives an extra punch of flavor that goes a long way.
Option 3: Purchase fresh foods or foods canned or frozen without sauces or salt.
If you can’t find a sodium-free option, you can rinse away a lot of the sodium from canned beans and vegetables before using them.
Option 4: Use less salt.
Salt is a flavor enhancer and sometimes, the dish really just needs a dash of salt and that’s okay too.
Our bodies actually need salt; but it’s estimated that the average healthy adults only need about 500 milligrams a day, which is easy to get since sodium is found naturally in many foods.
Your Take Home Message?
You can absolutely use nutrition and food to better manage your health – and you deserve to enjoy delicious foods you love to eat.
So, keep on eating those home-cooked meals, which you can now make even more healthy and delicious with these options to flavor food with less salt. You can even pair that meal with a drink in a healthy way.
Sodium and Food Sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 26, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm
Sodium In Your Diet. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. February 25, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet
How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day? American Heart Association. November 1, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/how-much-sodium-should-i-eat-per-day
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, 9th edition. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 9th Edition. December 2020. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf
Flavoring Foods Without Salt. Cleveland Clinic. March 4, 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11726-flavoring-foods-without-salt