Cut the Salt, Keep the Flavor

You may love spicy foods while a friend prefers milder flavors. But we all have different taste sensitivities and perceptions. In the American diet, many of us have one taste in common: a preference for and high consumption of salty foods.

Limiting your sodium is important to reduce your risk for high blood pressure (and likely stomach cancer). You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when you cut back on salt! Here are seven tricks I’ve found that help:

1. Go Slow: Our bodies quickly become accustomed to salt so cut back slowly, starting with holding back on the salt shaker at the table. The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans aim for <1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Slowly reducing your intake to this amount over the next month or two will allow your taste buds to adjust so you can enjoy the natural flavors of foods.

2. Fresh is Best: We get most of our daily sodium from packaged, processed foods. Fresh foods are naturally low in sodium. Cook from scratch when you can, adding little or no salt. In a hurry? Buy frozen vegetables or canned products that are labeled as low sodium or with no added salt.

3. Read Labels: <140 mg: Look for foods with <140 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is considered “low” according to FDA labeling regulations. When in doubt, compare nutrition labels (e.g. between two different brands of whole wheat bread) and buy the one with the least sodium. Be careful with foods labeled as reduced or low fat – they often contain much more salt than the regular version.

4. Spice it Up: Use fresh and dried herbs, vinegar, and citrus to kick up the flavor. Bake chicken breast with fresh rosemary, lemon juice and garlic. Add dried basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar to low-sodium canned tomatoes for a homemade pasta sauce. Or, make oven-baked sweet potato fries with chili powder, paprika and a dash of cinnamon.

5. Increase the Potassium: Potassium, a mineral naturally found in fruits and vegetables, helps counter the effects of sodium. Leafy greens, baked potatoes (with skin), and bananas are especially high in potassium.

6. Don’t be Fooled by Labels: Today’s food environment can be confusing. Just because a food is labeled “reduced” or “light” sodium does not mean it is low sodium. For example, one tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce still has 600-700 mg of sodium. While this is better than the regular version, that’s still a lot of salt.

7. Watch Out for Cured Meats: Deli meat, hot dogs, and sausage are loaded with sodium. Slice up your own baked turkey or chicken breast to go on sandwiches or try grilled veggies and hummus instead.

Sign up for AICR’s Heath-e-Recipes to get ideas for flavorful, cancer-protective recipes that won’t let you go overboard on the salt.

How do you flavor foods without adding salt?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.


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