How to Cook with Less or No Sodium

salt-substitutesThere are many ways to decrease or eliminate added salt in your cooking. You can start by adding an acidic flavor or you can deepen the flavor of a savory dish by substituting salt with the following ingredients: lemon and lime juices and zests, vinegars, sun-dried tomatoes, wine, sage and other herbs, garlic, onion, cumin and other spices, sweet and hot peppers, and liquid smoke.

Another alternative is to substitute salt with a “no salt added” seasoning. These are blends of herbs, spices and citrus zests. I just buy what’s available at Costco, but there are many brands on the market that you might like. On the other hand, please avoid “salt substitutes.” Chemically speaking, these are still salts, with potassium ions substituted for sodium ions, and the Cleveland Clinic recommends we avoid them due to potential health problems.

If you have cooked a dish that’s lacking in flavor, another option is to add more of the herbs and spices already in your recipe. Or add garnishes and sauces. Banana slices and chutneys on Indian-flavored foods, salsa and cilantro on Mexican-flavored foods, fresh basil and nutritional yeast flakes on Italian-flavored foods – I’m sure you can think of so many more examples – all add a little sparkle to your plate. Garnishes add visual appeal as well as flavor, and often they also add texture. Adding color and crunch can make food more interesting and appealing, catching your attention instead of the fact that salt is missing from your cooking.

Layering flavors can also make the lack of salt less noticeable. When we eat, we sense salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami flavors. Because I omit salt, I try to consider how to add more prominence to the other flavors. For example, if I am making chili, I may serve it with wedges of lime, which are sour; I may add a bit of cocoa powder, which is bitter; I may add a small handful of raisins for their sweetness; and I may add mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, olives or nutritional yeast, all of which add umami.

And yes, I know that these suggestions take more effort than just adding salt. And yet, if you are making the effort to get and stay healthy by eating healthfully, I already know that you are someone who bucks social norms and knows the effort is worthwhile. I hope the people you cook for appreciate you!

But I also know that there will be times when someone is going to be seated at your table who’s not going to be satisfied without having a salt shaker nearby, at least that’s what I have experienced. So just know that you have provided a healthy meal, release what’s not under your control, and let them salt away. Here’s just one more thing to consider: If you had added a teaspoon of salt to your recipe, our taste receptors would sense this salt at lower concentrations than the same amount of salt on the exterior surface of the food. It seems to us that there is less salt when mixed into food than when it is on the surface of the food. Therefore, the people who add salt at the table are probably not going to be adding all that much salt. At least let’s hope. Honestly, I have seen someone drain a quarter inch of salt from a glass salt shaker. All you can do is try.