Q: I know too much sodium is bad for me, so are there any alternatives I can cook with that will add a similar flavor boost and be healthier for me?
A: You are absolutely right—we eat far too much sodium in this country, and cutting back on sodium intake is a wise nutrition move. In fact, the American Heart Association dietary and lifestyle recommendations suggest we keep our intake of sodium under 2,300 mg per day (that’s the amount of sodium chloride found in about 1 teaspoon of salt) and under 1,500 mg for middle-aged and older adults, African Americans and those with diagnosed hypertension. Why worry about getting in too much salt—even if your blood pressure is normal? A high sodium diet has been linked to excessive loss of calcium from bones, an increase in kidney stone formation, reduced vitamin D and an increased risk of stroke, to name but a few of the adverse health effects linked to sodium overload.
Here are a few tips to help you shake the salt habit:
- Most of the salt in our diet comes not so much from the salt shaker but from processed and restaurant foods. Therefore, make an effort to choose less processed, natural whole foods. Be sure to read the nutrition facts label with the knowledge that 2,400 mg/day is your upper limit.
- If you dine out frequently, order the least processed menu options and add your own seasoning at the table. A salad bar is a great way to start your meal with a splash of heart-healthy olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of lemon juice . . . and practically salt-free (but beware of pre-made salad dressings—notoriously high in salt).
- When cooking, learn to cook salt-free by using antioxidant-rich herbs and spices to give your food a surefire flavor boost. One of my favorite ways to flavor vegetables like broccoli or spinach is to sauté fresh garlic in extra virgin olive oil; add in the vegetable, then sprinkle with a touch of fresh lemon juice, yum! Dill is another one of my favorite herbs. I chop fresh dill and garlic, spread it on salmon and roast until done. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and you’ll never miss the salt!