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WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO MODERATE OR REDUCE SALT INTAKE?

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO MODERATE OR REDUCE SALT INTAKE?

By Sandra Ortiz-Rosado, LND, CAWM, DE, CECD, and L.E.A.D. Network member

For centuries, salt was essential to preserve food, even the term “salary” comes from the word salt. Sodium is an essential mineral for life and one of the components of salt[i]. The human body needs sodium to maintain bodily fluids in balance, to transmit nerve impulses, and the contraction of muscular fibers, among other functions. But the reality is that the body needs very little sodium to perform these tasks and today it is known that excessive consumption of salt and sodium can have negative health effects.

WHERE CAN WE FIND SODIUM?

  • Naturally in many foods – this way you do not get a salty taste.
  • In table salt (sodium chloride) – gives a salty taste to food.
  • Seasonings containing salt and/or sodium.
  • Pickling and processed foods, and sausages – ready to eat.

Generally, sodium naturally present in fresh and/or unprocessed) foods does not represent a health problem. The excesses are due to the high consumption of salt, seasoning salt/sodium and processed foods. This is why it’s important to read and understand food labels to identify ingredients that add salt and/or sodium.

The latest edition of the United States Dietary Guidelines[ii] recommends keeping our daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams.

Note that these terms could indicate higher salt and/or sodium content:

Soda, baking soda; baking powder; brine, pickled, cured, corned; disodium phosphate; monosodium glutamate (MSG); sodium caseinate; sodium citrate; sodium nitrate; sodium sulfite; broth; smoked.

TIPS FOR REDUCING SALT AND SODIUM INTAKE:

  1. Enjoy the natural flavor of food – taste food before adding salt.
  2. Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned with salt.
  3. Select fresh meat, poultry and fish, dried beans, oats, eggs, milk, yogurt, meats, rice and fresh pasta.
  4. Season with herbs, spices, and juices, such as lemon and orange.
  5. Use tomato paste without added salt to prepare your favorite recipes, such as stews and soups.
  6. Learn to cook with less salt and low sodium ingredients.
  7. Read the sodium content in the nutrition information panel, or nutrition facts label, and consider foods that have:
    • 140 milligrams or less
    • 5% or less of the daily value (% DV)
  8. Compare the amount of sodium in similar products and choose the lowest content.
  9. Buy foods labeled as: no added salt, unsalted, reduced sodium, sodium free, low in sodium, high in potassium.
  10. Remove the liquid from canned foods.

HOW TO SPICE UP FOODS USING LESS SALT

The use of herbs and spices in the kitchen helps enhance the flavor of foods and add aromas, which is important when cooking with less fat, sugar, salt and sodium.

The difference between herbs and spices is:

HERBS SPICES
They grow in temperate climates and are the leaves of plants. They grow in tropical areas and come from the bark, buds, fruits, roots,,seeds or stems of plants and trees. Usually they’re used dry with the,exception of garlic and ginger.

FOLLOW THESE TIPS TO PROPERLY USE HERBS AND SPICES:

  1. Just before using fresh herbs, wash and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  2. To release more flavor and aroma, crumble between your fingers or use a mortar and pestle to grind.
  3. In dishes that require longer cooking time, such as soups and stews, add them near the end of cooking so that the flavor is not lost. In cold food, such as salads and dips, add it several hours earlier to impregnate the taste.
  4. When replacing the fresh alternative for a dry one, consider that the taste of fresh herbs and spices is softer than the dry ones. The correct conversion is 1 tablespoon of the fresh version = 1 teaspoon of the dry version.
  5. Add dried herbs and spices to liquid ingredients to develop the flavor.
  6. Beware of adding too much, always start with a small amount (¼ teaspoon per pound of meat or pint of sauce) and if necessary add more.
  7. The flavors and aromas of spices generally smooth out with slow and prolonged cooking. If you’re using it whole, it is recommended to add them at the beginning of cooking, and if they are crushed, somewhere between half and the end of the preparation.
  8. To conserve their properties, store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry and dark place, away from any heat, but not in the refrigerator.

Below is a list of common herbs and spices, their characteristics and uses.

HERBS CHARACTERISTICS
Basil Strong, sweet and spicy flavor. Recommended to use it fresh and add it at the half or end of cooking. It combines well with beef, lamb, veal, fish, shrimp, lobster and vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, onion, zucchini and tomato)
Celery Used in meat, fish, salads and dressings.
Chives Mild flavor between garlic and onion. Sprinkle it on ready dishes, vinaigrettes, mixed with soft texture cheeses, salsas and tortillas.
Coriander Used in soups, meat, lamb, pork, chicken, seafood and vinaigrettes.
Dill Mild aniseed flavor. Goes well with fish, seafood, vinaigrettes, salads, vegetables, eggs and pickles. Instead of dill, you can use fennel bulb leaves, but these have a more pronounced anise flavor.
Tarragon There are two types: French and Russian. The French one has the best aroma and flavor. Goes well with seafood, pork, lamb, chicken, veal, beef, eggs, zucchini, onions, vinaigrettes, mushrooms, artichokes, potatoes and sauces.
Peppermint From the mint family. It is used in stews, soups, fish, fresh peas, cooked carrots, fruit salads and to aromatize syrups.
Bay leaf It is usually found in the form of dry leaves. Aromatizes broths, stews, seafood, “escabeches”, tomato sauce, beans, cooked carrots and cabbage.
Wild Marjoram Mother of the marjoram. Enhances the flavor of pork, chicken, beef, lamb, seafood, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, eggplant, salad dressings, pizza, soups and broths.
Marjoram From the oregano family with a milder flavor. It can be combined with meats, stews, lamb and tomato-based preparations.
Parsley Widely used, especially fresh. There is a curly leafed one and a flat leafed one, the latter has a more aromatic flavor and taste. It can be used in savory dishes.
Rosemary It goes well with lamb and chicken; soups, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, eggplant, stews, roasts and grills.
Sage Combines with pork, beef, chicken, turkey, fish, savory fillings of any kind, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, pasta and vinaigrette.
Thyme Widely used in soups and broths. Combines with all kinds of meats, seafood, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, turnips, rice and beans.

SPICES CHARACTERISTICS
Anise Available as dry seeds. Goes well in applesauce, boiled red cabbage or salad; let the seeds soak for some time in the vinaigrette before adding them to the preparation.
Saffron Used to add color to rice dishes, soups and other dishes made with fish, paella, sauces and poultry.
Cinnamon Use raw or ground, it is very aromatic. Widely used in sweets, breads, curries. It can also be used with pork and lamb. If using it ground, add it at the end of cooking or dust it at the end to highlight their presence.
Clove Strong spicy flavor. Either whole or ground, it’s used to prepare fruit cocktails, fruit pies and stews.
Cumin You can find it in seeds or ground. It has a strong and spicy aroma and flavor; use with moderation. It will taste better if heated before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Great on recipes with beans.
Turmeric Soft fragrance, bright yellow color. It goes very well in pickled dishes, curries, rice dishes, vegetables, eggs and fish.
Curry Powder A mixture of different spices, herbs and seeds with as strong and spicy flavor, such as turmeric, ground coriander seeds, ginger, cayenne pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and pepper. It is used in different dishes, soups and sauces.
Ginger Used fresh or dried and ground. Strong spicy flavor. Fresh grated ginger is excellent in Chinese curry, sweets, cakes and biscuits dishes. When dry and ground, it has a milder flavor.
Nutmeg Seed. Best when grated right before using it. It is used in stews, pickled dishes, hot sauces, baked dishes, puddings and white sauces.
Paprika Obtained by grinding dried red peppers. Soft and slightly sweet taste. It is used in stews, to season meats, vegetables, rice and sauces. Hungarian paprika is the ground dry spice used to prepare goulash (meat and vegetables stew of Hungarian origin), curry dishes, meat and poultry with a spicy flavor.
Pepper Used whole or ground, there are green, dry, white, black and red versions. Used with moderation, enhances the flavors.
Cayenne Pepper Obtained from ground dried chili pepper. Very spicy flavor, which should be used with moderation. It is one of the ingredients of curry.
Jamaica Pepper Taste is between cinnamon and nutmeg. A sweet and fragrant walnut. Used ground or whole for stews, pickled dishes, sauces to marinate meats, chicken, cookies, fruit cocktail candies.
Vanilla Generally available as an extract. Sweet and aromatic odor. Flavoring for milk infusions used in ice cream, custard, cakes, and others.

As you can see, there are many ways to make your kitchen a delicious and healthy one.

References:
[i] Kurlansky M. Salt: a world history. New York: Walker and Co., 2002.
[ii] 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.