Sodium has become a dirty word in recent years, and with the steady rise of chronic disease in the U.S., it makes sense why: too much dietary sodium is directly linked to the development of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. To put things in perspective, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but most Americans actually get a whopping 3,400 mg on average. The trouble with sodium is that it can hide in just about everything we shop for at the supermarket, in our restaurant meals and take-out orders, and even our drinks. Weaning ourselves off the taste of salt can also be a tough task — taste buds with a high tolerance for salt immediately notice when there’s not enough. Luckily, watching your salt does not mean you have to sacrifice flavor. We’ve put together five simple ways to help you get started.
1. Start With Fresh, Whole Ingredients
Salt can be used to preserve foods and to mask the taste of poor-quality ingredients. However, if you start with fresh, flavorful, whole ingredients, you simply won’t need as much salt during cooking. Choose fresh, unchopped and unpeeled produce instead of pre-processed fruits and vegetables, because cut produce tends to lose flavor rather quickly. If available, choose local ingredients, because the less an ingredient has to travel, the fresher and better tasting it will be to begin with.
2. Make Your Own Soup Stock
Store-bought stock is one of the biggest sodium bombs out there. Even though there are ready-to-use low-sodium stocks available, what they lack in salt they might also lack in flavor and quality. Experiment with making your own basic meat and vegetable stocks from scratch by combining leftover vegetables, such as onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and dry herbs. A delicious stock makes a potent base for sauces, soups and grains, adding layers of flavor without the sodium.
3. Use Powerful Flavor-Enhancers Already in Your Pantry
There are so many exciting ways to zest up the flavor of your meals without the need for extra salt. Chances are, they’re already in your pantry or refrigerator! Below are some examples:
- Lemon and other citrus fruits (for juicing and zesting the skin)
- Garlic (for mincing raw or roasting)
- Ginger (for mincing)
- Cooking wine (for stocks and sauces)
- Cinnamon sticks (for grinding)
- Red chili peppers (for sauces and dips)
4. Become an Expert Herbalist
Fresh herbs and flavorful microgreens are potent ways to add major flavor and flair to your dishes without any excess sodium. There is a world of options to choose from, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Start with the herbs you know and recognize, such as basil, rosemary, cilantro, mint and parsley, then expand your repertoire as you get more comfortable. You can use standalone herbs whole or chopped as a garnish on just about anything, or combinations of herbs in homemade pasta sauces, curries, marinades and salads. To maximize flavor, chop your herbs as close to plating your dish as possible. Herbs tend to express most of their flavor immediately after chopping.
5. Technique Is Key
Choose healthy cooking techniques that emphasize and enhance the potent flavors of the ingredients you are cooking with. Instead of only boiling, microwaving or steaming foods, try techniques such as roasting, pan-frying and sautéing to improve the flavor and texture of the ingredients you start with. For example, an unsalted, boiled carrot is not a very craveable side-dish. However, caramelized oven-roasted carrots topped with chopped mint and black pepper is a different, more delicious story!
For more low-salt (but high-flavor) cooking ideas, check out Zipongo’s Low Sodium recipe category.