How to Prepare Low-Sodium Food Without Skimping on Taste

Learn how to make low sodium dishes that still taste great.In Roman times, people used the nickname “white gold” to refer to salt. The commodity could not only make food more palatable, but it also kept meat fresh in the days long before refrigeration. In fact, salt was so valuable that some Roman soldiers received “white gold” in lieu of money. Linguists think the word “salary” comes from the Roman word for salt.

Salt continues to be influential in our modern world, with chefs, home cooks, and food manufacturers using more and more of it, for the same reasons that our ancestors did. It makes food taste good, and it keeps it fresh for longer. The average can of soup contains up to 1,800 milligrams of sodium. For reference, the FDA recommends that adults eat no more than 2,300 milligrams in total in a day!

The good news is, though, that when taken in moderation, salt has a number of health and taste benefits. The other good news is that there are ways to reduce the sodium content of food without having to endure bland and tasteless dishes. Here’s what you need to know about making a low-sodium diet work for you.

Salt and Your Health

What we refer to as “table salt” is a mineral made up of sodium and chloride, but it’s the sodium that our bodies and taste buds crave. There’s an evolutionary explanation for that. Not only can salt keep food from going bad, sodium is a crucial electrolyte. Although it performs several important jobs inside the body, its main role is to regulate the amount of water in your cells. In order to facilitate these processes, dieticians recommend that people consume at least 500 to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

On the other hand, 500 to 1,500 mgs is only the equivalent of 1/4 to 3/4 of a teaspoon of sodium! Most Americans are getting much, much more sodium than their bodies need to function. Just like sodium deficiency comes along with a host of health issues, excessive sodium intake is often accompanied by severe health issues as well.

Because sodium attracts water, a high-sodium diet can cause the bloodstream to become saturated with water. This increases blood volume, and leads to hypertension, or high blood pressure. Over time, hypertension strains the heart muscle and can lead to cardiac issues that are sometimes fatal. High-blood pressure is also linked with a number of other health concerns, including strokes, kidney diseases, and vision issues.

Obviously it is best to avoid this type of scenario, but when a simple can of soup contains more than 75% of the daily sodium limit, and a fast food burger contains nearly half the daily limit of sodium, it’s not easy to steer clear of it. In addition, we’ve become accustomed to salty tasting foods.

So what are some foods to avoid, salt substitutes, and ways to make ordinary low-sodium foods taste better without overdoing it on the salt?

High Sodium Content Foods and Their Substitutes

Simple salt substitutions, and cooking tricks can help with low-sodium cooking that still tastes great.
Some common foods contain a significant percentage of the daily sodium allowance. Simply being aware of which foods have hidden sodium can make it easier for home chefs and those in the food industry to swap out these ingredients for similar-tasting ones. It’s important to note that not all foods that have high sodium content taste “salty.” Those looking to cook healthier low-sodium foods should consider swapping out the following items:

    • Table salt: The scientific and dietary communities have been hard at work researching salt substitutes that retain the salty flavor, without the added sodium price tag. Potassium chloride is a naturally occurring mineral that, like sodium chloride, has a salty flavor. It doesn’t taste quite the same as table salt, but many commercially produced salt substitutes like NoSalt and Morton Salt Substitute leverage the flavor of potassium chloride as a low-sodium alternative.
    • Canned soup and soup stock: Because canned soup is notorious for its high sodium content, it’s worthwhile to check the label when making purchasing decisions for your home or business. Several soup manufacturers now produce low-sodium versions of their product. Soup broths and stocks in the grocery store are also often high in sodium. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to whip up soup stock at home and save on the sodium price tag.
    • Cheese: It may come as no surprise that processed cheeses are high in sodium as is cottage cheese, but It’s easier than you might think to recreate the cheesy, creamy goodness in recipes requiring these ingredients. In recipes where cheese is used to add creaminess, consider using Greek yogurt or avocado instead as a low-salt substitute. In recipes where cheese plays a central role, use fresh mozzarella and Swiss cheese which have less sodium than other types of processed cheese.
    • Canned vegetables: Surprise! That can of corn, beans, or carrots may be hiding a high sodium content. Salt is often used as a preservative for canned foods. Consider using fresh or frozen vegetables for a simple, low-salt substitute wherever possible.
    • Salad dressings, condiments, and sauces: These tend to contain high levels of sodium as well. An easy solution is to compare nutrition labels in the grocery store, and pick a low-sodium variety. It’s also possible to make your own dressings and sauces.

    All It Takes is a Little Water

    When it comes to canned veggies, cottage cheese, and other foods, the sodium content can be significantly reduced in only a few minutes, just by running the food under a stream of water. One lab discovered that rinsing canned beans can reduce the sodium content by nearly a quarter! This is a good workaround for when your dish requires canned foods, and you can’t use a low-salt substitution.

    Reduce Sodium by Adding Other Flavors

    Low-sodium cooking is a challenge, not just because some ingredients are salt-loaded, but also because of the flavor aspect. Food with less salt just doesn’t taste as good. But that doesn’t have to be true. There are other flavors in the spice box aside from salt.
    Salt substitutes, and adding acids, and spices make low sodium cooking tastier
    One way to add flavor to low sodium dishes is to use herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil are all great options for boosting flavor without increasing sodium content. When cooking with herbs and spices, be sure to experiment until you find a combination that you like and be sure to taste as you go along so that you don’t overdo it. You can also buy premixed salt-free spice blends if you prefer.

    Add the Acids

    Acids such as lemon juice, lime juice, and vinegar can help to brighten the flavors in your food. These citrus fruits can intensify the flavor of a dish. In other words, they can make a little flavor, or a little bit of salt, go a long way. According to one study, adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest to a recipe, allowed chefs to reduce the amount of salt they added by 75 percent.

    How About Seaweed?

    Sea vegetables are naturally salty, and can be used as a low-sodium seasoning. One alternative that some dieticians are pinning their hopes on is so-called “green salt.” Green salt is made from ground salicornia, a seaweed-like plant that grows in briny soil. Salicornia has much less sodium than most salts. But, if you can’t get your hands on salicornia, any seaweed has the potential for making a dish more flavorful without the sodium price tag.

    Umami flavors add a salty taste without the sodium,

    Make it Umami

    Seaweed, along with fish, meats, and some mushrooms, contains the umami taste. Umami is a fifth category of taste that joins sweet, salty, sour, and bitter; It roughly translates to savory. The umami flavor was first identified by a Japanese chemist, studying a traditional Japanese soup made from seaweed and fish, who associated it with the amino acid glutamate that is found in umami-tasting foods. You may have heard of the controversial flavor enhancer MSG, which stands for mono-sodium glutamate. Since it contains both sodium and glutamate, MSG is used to bequeath umami and salty flavors on a dish, and has much less sodium than salt alone. Many chefs use MSG as a salt substitute to intensify the flavors in a dish.

    The jury is still out on whether MSG is helpful or harmful. Meanwhile, there are numerous other ways to stimulate the taste buds with a little umami, even in a low-sodium dish, and to compensate for the lack of salt. Adding nutritional yeast is one way to boost both protein and umami flavor. Mushrooms are another popular option. Rehydrated dried tomatoes have significantly more glutamate than fresh tomatoes, so consider using powdered or dried tomatoes in your dish. There are also a number of vegetables associated with umami, including sauteed garlic and onions, Chinese cabbage, and broccoli.

    With a little creativity and knowledge, it is possible to make delicious low sodium dishes that are packed with flavor. There are always ways to substitute, and to be in the know when it comes to nutritional information to make sure that your recipes are healthful and delicious.

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