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So Long, Sodium

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Leanne Ely, CNC: You will notice that in a lot of my recipes, I say, "Salt and pepper to taste." There is a reason for that -- I'm not saying it because I'm trying to frustrate you! Salt should be added slowly and, depending on the recipe, in steps. That's how the pros do it, and it makes sense: It's how to get the best taste and make sure you don't oversalt. The reason to salt anything is to bring out the flavor of the food, not mask it, and you only need a little bit.

Salt and Pepper
But salt is salt is salt, right? Not necessarily. There is a big difference between the various types of salt: kosher salt, sea salt and regular table salt. You may want to rethink your saltshaker. 

Kosher salt is coarse and free of any additives. The taste is lighter, less salty than regular table salt and is a good choice for cooking. As a matter of fact, according to a poll of fifty top U.S. chefs, 86 percent preferred cooking with kosher salt than any other kind. 

Sea salt is made from evaporated seawater and contains the extra minerals found in the seawater itself. La Baleine (French for "the whale") is the brand of sea salt most readily available in American supermarkets. It comes in a blue container with a whale on the label. It's pricier than table salt for sure, but it will last a while. [momlogic note: Most sea salt doesn't contain iodine, an element that's essential to proper thyroid function, so some health experts say iodized table salt is a healthier choice.]

Table salt is sodium chloride with a small amount of chemicals thrown in to stop it from clumping together. Believe it or not, table salt often has dextrose (a sugar) added to it to stabilize it. Who knew? 

That's the practical, cooking side of salt. There are also the health concerns with salt, but the majority of the too-much-salt-in-your-food problem comes from the salt in processed foods,  not the stuff in your saltshaker (although you need to watch that, too). For example, did you know that a fast-food hamburger will have nearly twice the amount of sodium than the homemade version? Or that such foods like cereal, instant cocoa, cake mixes and cottage cheese are extremely high in sodium? 

Excessive intake of salt is a major contributing factor to hypertension. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a disease that puts undue stress on the heart and other internal organs just to keep the blood pumping and moving through the body. This disease leads to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure -- this is serious stuff! We need some salt, but not ten grams, which is what the average American ingests on a daily basis. That's ten times too much! We only need about one gram, and that will be picked up naturally by the foods we choose. 

Think of it this way: One tablespoon of soy sauce is your daily quota of salt for the day. Makes you sort of rethink things, doesn't it? Have you ever been out to dinner and, later that night, felt you could down a gallon of water in one sitting? That's an indication that your food was way oversalted. Eating too much processed food and food from restaurants will set us up for future health concerns -- big time. 

Just remember: The flavor of your food is truly worth its salt, especially when you are using a quality salt -- and using it sparingly. You will be amazed how little you use once you start eating more natural foods and less of the processed stuff. 

Leanne Ely is the New York Times bestselling author of "Body Clutter" and the "Saving Dinner" series. Her "Dinner Diva" syndicated column appears in 250 newspapers nationwide. Learn how to cook great and save significant money with the Dinner Diva's menus, recipes and shopping lists at www.savingdinner.com.


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13 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 10, 2010, 6:47 PM

Chefs and good cooks don’t over use salt at any given step in the cooking/baking process because as the food cooks the water evaporates thereby concentrating the taste of salt in a dish.

Now on to your blog. I just have a few questions which if your writing a blog on the evils of salt you should be able to answer. What is the recommended salt intake for any given person in order to maintain normal bodily functioning in any given day?

How much salt should be replaced along with water during periods of exertion (involving sweat)?

What is considered to much salt intake? What is the difference between the salt on your table and the sodium in soy sauce when broken down by your digestive system?

What are the studies that suggest the correlation between highly processed food and high blood pressure, not just sodium/salt/msg?

Oh and while were at it what is the difference between sodium/table salt/msg when broken down in the digestive track? Some people are looking for actual information not just platitudes.

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