Your doctor said to cut the salt. It's old advice. You've heard it before. You've even tried! Why does salt have to make food taste so good, and why is food so bland without it?! I'll break it down, and share some of my best tips for how to cook with less salt.
Salt enhances the natural flavors in food, so it's no wonder we love it so much! And it's found in about everything from potato chips and pretzels, to raw chicken and turkey, to chocolate chip cookies. This makes it incredibly hard to reduce for those of us who need to! Cooking at home is the best way to control the amount of salt you eat, because the majority of the salt we consume doesn't come from the salt shaker! It's already in the food we eat.
How Much Salt Should I Eat?
The recommendation for sodium intake for healthy people is less than 2300 mg per day. Look for that to be lowering in an upcoming revision of guidelines.
Ideally, we should all be consuming less than 1500 mg sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, you should definitely be working to keep your sodium intake below that.
But don't we need sodium? Yes. Sodium is an electrolyte (like potassium), and it is necessary to help keep the body functioning normally. The human body requires about 500 mg of sodium for normal functioning daily. Some people need more; those who exercise and/or sweat a lot, for example. The average American consumes in excess of 3400 mg daily, so most people are in no danger of not getting enough for the body to work right. Most all foods naturally contain some sodium, so even if you never added any salt at all, you'd probably be fine.
How Much Sodium Am I Eating?
The best way to determine how much sodium you eat is by keeping track of it. People are notoriously inaccurate with estimates of how much they eat, and not all foods with a lot of sodium taste salty.
It's important to take a look at labels on all the foods and beverages you consume. Writing it down is most helpful. There are some apps that are useful to help you do that. My Fitness Pal, Fooducate, and Cronometer are some of my favorites, but there are many, many more. Good old pencil and paper are fine, too!
How Can I Cook With Less Salt?
Here are some of my favorite tips to reduce the amount of salt you eat while still making your food taste good!
- Know that your taste buds will adjust to your new lower salt way of cooking. It will take about 7-10 days. Keep trying new things!
- Don't salt your food as you cook. If a recipe calls for salt, omit it. Taste your food after you put it on your plate, and add a LITTLE salt then if you think it needs it.
- Switch to a salt substitute while you're trying to lower your salt intake. Salt substitutes are potassium chloride (table salt is sodium chloride), so they still tastes salty without the blood pressure raising effects. (Do NOT use salt subs if you have kidney disease.)
- Use acids. Acids tend to complement flavors in a similar way salt does. Try adding a little vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice instead of salt in some dishes. This Salsa Verde capitalizes on this technique!
- Use dried herbs and spices during your cooking. It's okay to go a little heavy handed on these for a while until your taste buds adjust to less salt. Combining herbs and spices with acids as noted above is a helpful technique.
- Use fresh herbs to finish your dish. Whether it's chopped cilantro on tacos or enchiladas, parsley in soup, or fresh thyme or basil on a salad, these pops of flavor will reduce your need for salt.
- Look at labels on sauces, gravies, and dressings. These are often laden with sodium, and the serving size is usually small. Look for lower or no sodium options. BBQ sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, marinades, salad dressing, etc. are all places to look. Amazon is a great place to find low sodium options if your local grocery store doesn't have any.
- Use homemade broth or unsalted versions from the store to pump up the flavor in cooked grains like rice and quinoa, soups, stews, and about any other savory recipe calling for water.
Do you have a tip for how to cook with less salt not listed here? Reply and let me know!