March 3, 2005
Prairie Fare: Shaking the Salt Habit
As I was arranging my collection of salt and pepper shakers the other day, I thought about the number of times I’ve recommended that people leave their shakers in the cupboard. It struck me as a little odd that I’d been hoarding salt and pepper shakers for many years. On the positive side, most of my salt shakers are merely decorative, with no salt in them.
Over the years, salt has changed from something precious and rare to something in great abundance in our foods. In fact, ancient Roman soldiers were paid in salt. That’s where the expression “worth your salt” and the term “salary” originated.
Salt, or sodium chloride, has a number of roles in food. As we all know, salt provides taste. We aren’t born with a taste for salty foods as we are for sweet foods. In fact, a true substitute for salt never has been developed.
In early years and yet today, salt has many roles in food production. It can help preserve foods. Salt brines have been used to cure foods and keep them safe to eat for a longer time.
Salt affects food texture, helping create a fine crumb in bread. It’s used to control fermentation in making cheese and sauerkraut. It’s also used in the processed meat industry to help bind processed meats together.
Despite admonishments from nutrition professionals, salt intake continues to rise. According to national health surveys, Americans consume about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt daily (3,400 milligrams), compared with about 2,400 milligrams in the 1970s. The 2005 dietary guidelines recommend 2,300 milligrams (or less) daily. That’s about one teaspoon of salt from all sources.
More isn’t better when it comes to sodium. High-sodium diets are linked to high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Some people are more sensitive to sodium intake than others are. Other factors, such as weight, family history, inactivity and smoking also are linked with high blood pressure risk.
The good news is that only about one-twentieth of our intake comes from salt at the table, so we aren’t necessarily overusing our salt shakers. Over the years, we have acquired a taste for salt so strong that food manufacturers have had many “low-sodium” products fail. We just don’t buy them.
We can tame our taste for sodium, but it’s best to do it gradually. Consider these tips and don’t forget to read the Nutrition Facts labels to learn about your favorite foods.
Here’s a recipe with less sodium than a traditional stir-fry made with soy sauce or other marinade.