Cooking without Salt
Sodium is one of the main elements in salt. It is added to many foods to enhance the flavor. Too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure.
Eating a low-salt diet is an important way to take care of your heart. Most people eat about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. This is about twice as much as the American Heart Association recommends. Most healthy people should have no more than 2,400 mg of salt a day. People over 51, and those who have high blood pressure, should limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day or less.
To get down to a healthy level, learn how to trim the excess salt from your diet.
Avoid prepared foods.
Processed foods make dinner prep easy. But they account for 75% of the sodium in the American diet. This includes:
- Prepared mixes
- Rice dishes
- Canned foods
A healthy level of sodium is 140 mg or less per serving. If you use prepared foods, limit sodium by:
- Buying products labeled "low-salt," "reduced-salt," or "no salt added"
- Checking the nutrition labels of cereals, bread, and prepared mixes
- Rinsing canned foods to wash off some of the sodium
- Avoiding cured meats like ham and bacon, pickles, olives, and other foods prepared in salt
Also, use small amounts of condiments like ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce. Even the low-salt versions are often high in sodium.
Bring on the fresh produce.
Fruits and vegetables are a great source of flavor and nutrition.
- Plant-based foods -- carrots, spinach, apples, and peaches -- are naturally salt-free.
- Sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, cranberries, cherries, and other dried fruits are bursting with flavor. Use them in salads and other dishes to add zest.
Try salt-free cooking.
Explore cooking with salt substitutes.
- Add a splash of lemon and other citrus fruits, or wine, to soups and other dishes. Or use them as a marinade for chicken and other meats.
- Avoid onion or garlic salt. Instead, use fresh garlic and onion, or onion and garlic powder.
- Try different types of pepper, including black, white, green, and red.
- Experiment with vinegars (white and red wine, rice wine, balsamic, and others). For the most flavor, add it at the end of cooking time.
- Toasted sesame oil adds a savory flavor without added salt.
Read the labels on spice mixes. Some have added salt.
To add a little heat and spice, try:
- Dry mustard
- Fresh chopped hot peppers
- A sprinkle of paprika, cayenne pepper, or dried hot red pepper
Help yourself to herbs and spices.
Herbs and spices provide a mix of flavors. If you aren't sure what spices to use, do a taste test. Mix a small pinch of a spice or spice mix into a lump of low-fat cream cheese. Let it sit for an hour or more, then try it and see if you like it.
Try these flavors to liven up your meals without salt.
Herbs and spices on vegetables:
- Carrots -- Cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
- Corn -- Cumin, curry powder, paprika, parsley
- Green beans -- Dill, lemon juice, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme
- Tomatoes -- Basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper
Herbs and spices on meat:
- Fish -- Curry powder, dill, dry mustard, lemon juice, paprika, pepper
- Chicken -- Poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
- Pork -- Garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano
- Beef -- Marjoram, nutmeg, sage, thyme
Source: Flavor That Food, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Adjust to less salt.
You will notice a difference when you first start cooking without salt. Fortunately, your sense of taste will change. After a period of adjustment, most people stop missing salt and start enjoying the other flavors of food.
Chicken and Spanish Rice
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- ¾ cup green peppers
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 8-oz can tomato sauce*
- 1 tsp parsley, chopped
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1-¼ tsp garlic, minced
- 5 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in unsalted water)
- 3-½ cups chicken breasts, cooked, skin and bone removed, and diced
- In a large skillet, sauté onions and green peppers in oil for 5 minutes on medium heat.
- Add tomato sauce and spices. Heat through.
- Add cooked rice and chicken. Heat through.
* To reduce sodium, use one 4-oz can of low-sodium tomato sauce and one 4-oz can of regular tomato sauce.
Source: Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH, U.S. Health and Human Services.
- Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. November 2013.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.US Department of Agriculture, 7th edition Washington (DC): US Government Printing Office. 2010.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH. NIH Pub. No. 06-4082.