Sodium is an essential mineral in the body and can promote fluid balance, help maintain the acid-base balance and is essential to nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.

Nowadays, the standard American diet rarely lacks sodium. The opposite, however, is. Sodium recommendations are usually set low enough to protect against high blood pressure but high enough to allow for appropriate intake of other nutrients in a regular diet. The upper limit recommended by Health Canada is 2 300mg sodium daily1. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt daily2. To note: the Daily Value inscribed on food labels uses 2 400mg as the recommended intake. Health Canada recommends 1 500mg sodium daily for individuals from 9-50 years of age1.

Certain individuals are recommended to reduce salt intake due to a variety of reasons including pre-hypertension or hypertension. The dietary approach to stop hypertension, also known as the DASH diet emphasizes increasing fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and limited red meat, saturated fats, and sweets. By removing many process foods, it would intrinsically reduce an individual’s salt intake. For individuals with pre-hypertension or hypertension, a threshold of 1 500 mg of sodium per day is established to further enhance blood pressure reduction.

Whether you’ve been recommended to reduce your salt intake or you’re interested in increasing the flavour profile from your dishes, there’s a solution for everyone.

How to bypass our flavour-enhancing mineral? Here are my favourite ways of replacing or compliment salt:

  1. Select fresh, unprocessed food
    • You’ve heard it before and it remains true; eating a whole food diet remains the best way to get closer to a healthier you!
    • This entails: a variety of vegetables and fruits, unprocessed proteins (poultry, eggs, meat, tofu…), whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  2. Play with the pH
    • Ok, that admittedly just a fancy way of saying add some acidity to your meal. This is because acid enhances our perception of salt. With that in mind, creating a sharp vinaigrette for your next salad, squirting some lime juice over your seared meats or adding more lemon juice to your favourite yoghurt sauce can impact the overall balance of your whole meal.
  3. Introduce spices
    • Adding a little pizzaz to any recipe can be as easy as introducing your favourite spice. This can be either in or on your final dish. Think extra oregano sprinkled over tomato sauce, sumac over grilled meats, za’atar in your favourite sauce.
    • If you’re looking an extra something to integrate into your meals, topping your dish with an olive oil tadka can elevate a dish very quickly. This would involve heating oil and adding dry spices (cumin, coriander, chilis, paprika) and/or garlic/ginger until fragrant and topping your dish with this liquid gold.
  4. Herbs help
    • Seasonal herbs always add a fresh dimension to any dish. Whether you want to feel like it’s summer with fresh ripped basil or warm with fresh sage leaves, the variety of herbs you can use is endless. Herbs are also a fantastic way of introducing variety to your diet and feeding you gut microbiome. Win-win!
    • Consider adding: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill, cilantro or basil to your cooking.
  5. Add some zest
    • This one’s exactly what it sounds like. Zest a citrus and add it to your food. You can:
      • Top a fish or seafood dish.
      • Integrate it in creamy yoghurt or tahini sauces or dressings.
      • Mix into guacamole or any recipe that requires lemon, lime, grapefruit…
  6. Cook with stock
    • Contrary to popular belief, stock doesn’t need to be restricted to soup-making only. You can:
      • Use the stock to cook vegetables, grains and poach proteins!
      • Integrate a stock instead of high-salt alternatives in recipes.
      • Your best bet is to make a homemade stock or broth to better control your salt intake. If this is not available to you, store-bought no-salt alternatives are also available.
  7. Allium are always welcome
    • Familiar flavours like garlic and onions are fantastic at introducing sweet or pungent qualities to dishes we know and love.
  8. Reduced salt and salt-free options are your friends
    • If looking at every label sounds tedious, know that salt-free labels are often easy to spot.
    • This is especially important in certain items that are notoriously high-salt. Look out for the no-salt or low-salt label in canned goods such as tomatoes, beans, seafood, processed foods (bread, frozen meals, canned entrées, processed meat, cheese) and nuts.

I hope this list can give you some inspiration and provide you with some ideas as to where and how to add flavour to meals without adding salt. Remember, while 80% of the sodium we eat comes from processed, packaged and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker at home, it is important to remain mindful of the salt we do add to meals while preparing and serving them.

References:

  1. Health Canada. Sodium: the basics. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/sodium/sodium-basics.html. Published September 17, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2022.
  2. Whitney, Rolfes, et. al., Understanding Nutrition First Canadian Edition, 2013

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