Salt Shakers

Cooking with salt may seem so natural that it goes unnoticed. As an average American, about 11 percent of your sodium comes from food prep or salt you add at the table. A salt preference and the habit of cooking with salt are learned. You can unlearn them, too.

You don't need to eliminate sodium from your cooking. In fact, you probably can't—and you shouldn't! Sodium occurs naturally in many foods, and it's a nutrient your body needs in limited amounts. See chapter 7, ""Sodium and Potassium: A Salty Subject." Learn to choose and prepare food with little salt. Do so gradually . . . especially if you're a salt lover. After a while, your taste for salt probably will change. You might be surprised when some foods seem too salty! Except for recipes with yeast, you can cut back on salt, in most traditional recipes, perhaps by 50 percent— or even eliminate it. Baked goods made with yeast need salt to control the rising of the dough.

  • Taste before you reach for the salt shaker. Food may taste great just as it is!
  • Shake the habit! Remove the salt shaker from the kitchen counter and the table. A !/8-teaspoon "salt shake" adds about 300 milligrams of sodium to your dish. Many health experts advise a limit on sodium intake for the general population: less than 2,300 milligrams a day.
  • Instead of added salt, spark up the flavor with herbs and spices, garlic, onions, balsamic vinegar, and citrus juice. See "A Pinch of Flavor: How to Cook with Herbs and Spices" in this chapter.
  • Make a little salt go further. Salt your food lightly just before serving. When it's on the surface of food, the salty taste seems more intense. Get a bigger flavor burst (and use less salt) with a large-granule, coarse salt, such as kosher or sea salt. Instead of salt, add a touch of flavor with foods that contain some salt and a little fat, such as olives, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and salted nuts. The fat helps keep the salty taste in your mouth longer.
  • Drain liquid and rinse some canned vegetables such as canned beans to reduce salt. Cook in tap water or defatted sodium-free broth.
  • Reduce or skip salt in cooking water . . . even if a package label says to add it. Salt won't make water boil any faster. Instead, season pasta, rice, vegetables, and cereals with spices or herbs after they're cooked.
  • Use prepared ingredients with less sodium—perhaps low-sodium broth, no-salt-added canned vegetables, light soy sauce, and salt-free seasoning mixes. Read the label. If foods have ingredients with salt or sodium already, you likely don't need more in a recipe.
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