The Low Down on Salt Intake

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Nelson Mandela 

UPDATE: RIP Mr. Nelson Mandela. You changed the world.

A wise man, Nelson Mandela was. Salt, after all, used to be used as currency and for many, many years causes wars and changed cuisines around the world. Only the richest and most royal people had salt on their tables for quite some time.

Read this article from "TIME" Magazine for more nerdy history info.

Most recently, salt has become something that is in many ways inescapable. It is everywhere. 

It is used as a preservative in packaged products, and as a way to make up for lost flavor, cheap ingredients and other undesirable properties. For example, many "low calorie" prepared foods are quite high in salt because salt does not have any calories.

I bring up salt this week because in the past two weeks, it has come up with two patients of mine, both of whom are struggling with health-related issues affected by their salt intake. Both run 50-80 miles per week, and compete year-round in marathons. It's not uncommon for me to talk to patients in the hospital about their salt intake; it is uncommon to see athletes in the hospital having to see a dietitian.

Naturally, each of us has our own genetic pattern that increases our risks of developing certain diseases; this is something both of my clients were affected by. They assumed because they were so healthy and fit that they were essentially untouchable.

Perhaps you have your own family medical history; it might even be your motivator to live a better, healthier life. It's important to be aware that too much of anything can be harmful, even if you run 70 miles per week. I believe that people have become so accustomed to seasoning everything with salt, they forgot what other things add taste and create delicious meals without raising blood pressure, causing osteoporosis, and in extreme instances, stomach cancer. To be clear, if you're in hard training, dehydrated or needing to rehydrate, I am not at all advising to avoid salt. This is strictly related to food intake ideally during medium to low training periods.


Five Ways To Flavor Food Without Salt

  1. Get creative with liquids- instead of cooking rice with water, which has no flavor; try using low-salt vegetable or chicken stock. If you have to boil or poach something, try adding juice, herbs, and spices to make a flavorful poaching liquid that is salt-free. Simmer apple juice with a cinnamon stick and star anise, and then use the liquid to cook hot cereal, like oatmeal. The more flavor you infuse your foods with during cooking, the more flavor you’ll have in the end, meaning you won’t have to add any salt at the end- or very little!

  2. Try using foods that naturally have a salty taste, albeit sparingly. For example, instead of making a salty marinara pasta sauce, try grating fresh Parmesan over the top of your pasta dish with cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh basil. Parmesan cheese makes sense with pasta, and it has a naturally salt flavor. Other foods that provide this salty taste are olives, anchovies and capers. If you are on a very restricted sodium diet, this may not be appropriate, but if you can have some salt in your diet. Try using real foods instead of salt. 

  3. Fresh & seasonal- if you try to make a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad in December, you’ll notice the tomatoes you buy came from South America and don’t have much flavor with a mealy texture, and you may have a very hard time finding fresh basil.  This is why buying seasonally and even better, locally, makes it easier to cook without salt. The fresher and more recently picked produce and herbs will taste better, allowing you to savor the real flavor instead of reaching for the salt shaker to enhance it.

  4. Herbs- talk about packed with tons of natural flavor! The varieties are endless here- cilantro, dill, rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, sage, chives, marjoram, fennel, oregano, lavender, parsley…. Any of these will boost the flavor of your food, and you won’t miss the salt. 

  5. Ingredients that are already packed with flavors- garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, citrus zest, etc. These foods and many more add tons of flavors to your recipes, meaning you won’t need to add salt.  Try roasting, grilling, and other healthy cooking methods to add even more flavor. Example- roast plum tomatoes with olive oil until blackened and soft. Chop or puree and add to your recipe that calls for regular tomatoes- the flavor will be out of this world! 

Do you struggle with salt? What's your best tip to make delicious, low-salt meals? Share below- I'd love to hear from you! Stay tuned for more great tips.


Eat Well, Live Well-

Rebekah Langford, RD, CDN