4 Ways to Eat Less Salt Without Losing Flavor
Whether you're a foodie or just eating to live, the amount of salt we all use in cooking can easily creep higher and higher over the years. And with so many varieties from which to choose, it can be hard to limit sodium whether for certain health conditions, like hypertension, or just as a preventative measure. This isn't new information, but it's an issue many of us, if we're honest, choose to let slide. (See also: Healthy Changes You Can Make Today)
Now, we all do need some salt in our diets to help our body perform basic functions. However, according to the CDC, the latest recommendations state that individuals only need some 1500 mg of sodium per day. Most individuals over the age of two, however, consume 3400 mg of the stuff — far higher than the recommended upper limit of 2300 mg per day.
Monitoring salt content need not be difficult, nor totally disastrous or demoralizing to home cooks. In fact, there's some good news here: Much of the salt intake cited above comes from foods we eat outside the home versus those we make ourselves. With that in mind, here are some tips for gaining more control over the sodium in your diet, all while keeping your meals flavorful and appetizing. (See also: Cheap Ways to Add Big Flavor)
1. Use Whole Foods
Not surprisingly, a lot of the salt that creeps into our diets isn't coming from plain table salt itself. Instead, it's the packaged ingredients we use in cooking that contain high concentrations of sodium. Next time you're at the store, flip around those canned soups, vegetables and beans, and other boxed goods to look at their salt content. You might be surprised with what you find — there's added salt, and lots of it — in seemingly everything we buy.
Suggestion: A swap with fresh or frozen produce, homemade mixes or other add-ins, and a shift away from using convenience foods (packaged rice mixes, flavor packets, etc.) in cooking will help tremendously. (See also: Foods You Should Make Yourself)
2. Swap with "Low-Sodium" Products
If you can't make the switch entirely, even low-sodium counterparts can be a good option and allow you to better gauge the salt content in your meals. For example, I recently took a look around my grocery store and discovered that conventional vegetable broth contains 800 mg of sodium per serving (1 cup) versus its low-sodium counterpart that contains just 140 mg. That's a notable difference. We use a lot of vegetable broth for slow cooker meals, so switching has made a big impact on my family's intake — and with little sacrifice when it comes to flavor.
Suggestion: Take a stroll around your grocer's aisles and choose the lower-sodium options that meet your nutritional needs. Regular or less salt, be sure to rinse these ingredients before using them to gain even better control over the culinary situation.
3. Sprinkle Spices and Herbs
Fine-tuning dishes goes way beyond salt. Some of the best meals rely more heavily on spices and herbs for their flavor and heat. If you're new to cooking with these tasty add-ins, you'll be pleased to learn that many packaged spices (not to be confused with flavor mixes or packets, which often contain lots of salt) come with recommendations for use. If you're still stuck, check out The Kitchn's handy Quick Guide to Every Herb and Spice in the Cupboard.
Suggestion: Stock up on shelf-stable spices and herbs like curry, paprika, coriander, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, cayenne, black pepper, dried thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, dill — just to name a few. That way, you'll always have them in a pinch. Venture into fresh territory for a few special meals each week (they tend to be more expensive) and when certain herbs are bountifully in season.
4. Cook More
As tough as it may sound, making more flavorful foods with less salt may have less to do with the actual ingredients than you think. If you start cooking more at home versus going out and ordering sodium-loaded entrees at restaurants, your palate — with time — will adjust. The same idea applies to your favorite salted home-cooked favorites. Experts admit that we, as individuals, aren't entirely responsible — that our salt addiction is culturally induced from decades of more and more processed foods. It can be difficult to kick the routine, so a gradual approach might be the best for long-term change. (See also: 10 Recipes for Kitchen Newbies)
Suggestion: Aim to dine out one less time this week. Next week, try two fewer meals out. Keep going. Not only will you eat more wholesome, healthy meals, you'll also be saving money to purchase higher-quality ingredients to stock your kitchen (or to use as you please!). The same approach can help your cooking, too. Aim to use less salt each week and, eventually, it won't seem so different anymore.
Are you making an effort to lower your sodium intake? What are your tips?