Home Food 101 The Realities Of Cooking With Salt

The Realities Of Cooking With Salt

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From USNews:

Most Americans have heard that red wine has health benefits, but many don’t understand the need to limit consumption, finds an American Heart Association survey.

The majority of respondents also mistakenly believe that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt, the survey found. The poll was conducted to assess awareness about how wine and sodium affect heart health.

[…]

The survey results, released Monday, also indicate that most respondents don’t know the primary source of sodium in their diets and are confused about low-sodium food choices. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure and boost the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Forty-six percent of respondents incorrectly said table salt is the primary source of sodium in American diets. In fact, processed foods such as soups, canned foods, prepared mixes, condiments and tomato sauce account for up to 75 percent of sodium consumption in the United States.

Sixty-one percent of respondents believe that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. But sea salt and Kosher salt are chemically the same as table salt (40 percent sodium).

People should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, the AHA says. In order to limit sodium intake, read nutrition and ingredient labels on prepared and packaged foods, experts advise.[source]

I’m always curious about the amounts of salt that the average person is eating every day outside of their processed food intake. That feels like a silly statement, but I’m being honest. In all seriousness, I wonder if people realize just how much salt it takes to meet the 1,500 mg a day amount that the AHA suggests – a little under a teaspoon of table salt – and I wonder if people realize that it’s hard as hell to meet that number if you’re not eating processed foods.

I suppose I’d be naive to ignore the fact that people who are processed food eaters have pushed the “settling point” for their taste buds, so to speak. If all you eat is salty foods because you desire that pinch that salt gives you, the reality of this is that your taste buds eventually become dulled to that “pinch,” and you have to eat more salt in order to get that same “pinch.” The funny thing about this is that it ruins your ability to enjoy flavor – you’re too busy chasing the tang of salt that you miss out on the flavor of what you’re eating, or worse – you think that what you’re eating has no flavor, when in reality the processed food is what lacks flavor and only has salt to cover it up.

The cycle gets worse, though.

When a surplus of salt enters the bloodstream, the body is forced to store the salt between the cells until the kidneys can filter it. Salt then causes a caustic, burning effect on the surrounding tissue. For protection, the cells release water into the intercellular fluid to dilute the excess salt. As the cells give up their water, they lose elasticity and shrink. This, in turn, causes an imbalance of the cell’s chemistry through a loss of potassium.

Low potassium levels cause more sodium to penetrate the cell walls. When the sodium level of the cell rises, water then enters to dilute it, causing the cell to become swollen. The continuous disruption of the cell’s fluid balance can, in time, calcify, scar and destroy the muscles, valves and arteries of the entire coronary route. It may culminate in congestive heart failure. In this way, salt becomes an accomplice to North America’s most voracious killer, cardiovascular disease!

In China, a traditional method of suicide was drinking water saturated with table salt. One ounce of salt causes the body to hold six pounds of excess fluid. Salt in large quantities can be lethal.

When you eat salty foods the body has to compensate to maintain homeostasis. If you eat salty foods for a long period of time, as with caffeine, heroin and nicotine, the body becomes dependent on salt to maintain balance. Therefore reducing salt intake can create physical withdrawal. [source]

There’s also this issue of sea salt. Everyone makes the statement “Ohhh, use sea salt – it’s good for you!” but what does it mean that it’s good for you? What benefits does sea salt have to offer?

Salt is salt. Sodium (Na, 40%) and Chlorine (Cl, 60%).

Sodium is the problem. We are consuming way too much of it. The excess sodium in our diet leads to hypertension, high blood pressure, and ultimately heart disease.

Sea salt comes from the sea, table salt is mined from places that used to be oceans and dried up millions of years ago.

Sea salt does contain traces of additional minerals (0.01% of things like magnesium) but they do not lessen the impact of the sodium consumption.

Even if the minerals in a given sea salt are important nutrients for the body, why take them with all the added salt? Why not from other naturally occurring sources in food? [source]

Sea salt doesn’t offer you anything that isn’t found in other food naturally. The “benefit” that sea salt has over other salts is the fact that it can be less processed, and even then, it’s not guaranteed because it can still be bleached and minerals can still be lost during the bleaching process. So even still, your sea salt would have to have multi-colored granules in it.

And, while I know that a lot of people – myself included- prefer the sea salts with the larger granules simply because it compels us to use less, the fact remains that we’re still using salt. We still have to be careful.

So, how can you get flavor without using [so much] salt?

Use the naturally bitter juices and flavors in fruits and vegetables to your advantage. Lemon, lime and grapefruit come to mind. Squeeze out some flavor, then use the pulp in a marmalade or in preserves. Use vinegar. Red wine, apple cider or plain – all flavorful options. Use your herbs and spices gratuitously – either fresh or dried, whole or ground, they provide nutrients and tons of flavor. Get creative. Go digging! (And keep the salt use to a half a pinch!)

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18 comments

LaLa May 2, 2011 - 8:36 AM

Great tips..and I just went out and bought some Sea Salt this past weekend!!! smh….

Lovelyday May 2, 2011 - 9:06 AM

Excellent article. I definitely needed to be more aware of the sea salt vs. table salt phenomenon. I thought that sea salt was somehow less salty or better than regular salt!

I had my blood pressure taken 2 weeks ago, ad it was 145/98; therefore, I changed my eating habits IMMEDIATELY! I stopped with the excess salt, but I eat lots of fruits and vegetables anyway. I also started walking on my elliptical machine for 30 minutes. I lost 2 kilos and my blood pressure is NOW usually in the 107-110/ 74-80 range.

What a difference diet and exercise can make! Thanks for your information and encouragement!!!

Madame: The Journey May 2, 2011 - 11:54 AM

Glad you brought up the increased popularity of sea salt and its benefits compared to a table salt. Yes, in hindsight it’s a better choice, but at the end of the day, it’s STILL salt! I think it’s Wendy’s who’s touting their new french fries for being “healthier,” because they’ve transitioned to sea salt for flavoring. Meanwhile they’re still piling on similar amounts as before, atop an already questionable potato fry product.

I love using lime and lemon juice to replace my desire for added salts, and soy sauces … tastes just as good, if not better – on certain dishes.

LaLa May 2, 2011 - 2:26 PM

Yes, about the Sea Salt Fries @ Wendy’s…they’re just as bad as any other fry…I saw an article about how they add chemicals to the fries to ensure crispiness at the store and all kinds of other mess….I’ll no longer be eating them….

Serenity May 2, 2011 - 12:36 PM

I use celery juice. It’s VERY salty.

I don’t like celery but the people in my house swear they must have it so I buy it. The sentiment doesn’t match the reality. And when said celery goes limp, I juice it and save it to flavor our food.

Shante May 2, 2011 - 3:45 PM

I prefer sea salt over table salt because I find that is has a cleaner salt taste. It taste saltier to me if you can understand that. And because of that I use less of it. Something that people need to be mindful of when cooking is that you want to build flavor in your food and that doesn’t mean adding salt to every step of the cooking process. Salt in the wrong hands is a insult to food but food without it is just wrong IMO. A small amount of salt does wonders for the flavor of food. If I could only have one seasoning in my cabinet for the rest of my life it would be salt hands down in all of it different forms from all over the world.

CoCo May 2, 2011 - 8:16 PM

This article came right on time for me. I was shopping this weekend and realized that I’m always a little heavy handed with the cajun seasonings and garlic blends. I LOVE those, but I was wondering about a cleaner way to season food. I guess I’m going to have to try to make friends with citrus flavors, herbs and vinegar, etc. Because, right now, if my veggies aren’t raw, I don’t know what to do with them besides add butter and one of my garlic/salt blends or cover them in my favorite stir fry sauce.

Daphne May 3, 2011 - 1:28 PM

I switched from table salt to sea salt about a year ago, but I still didn’t get crazy with it.

Last night, I looked at the nutritional info of my sea salt: 1/4 teaspoon still had over 600 mg of sodium. Yikes!

Thanks for the tips. I constantly struggle with creativity in the kitchen, so this is right on time.

ravi626 May 3, 2011 - 4:40 PM

Good article. Though, if one avoids processed foods, do we really need to worry that much about the amount of salt we cook with? My wife and I eat almost zero processed food, so our salt intake is what we add to what we cook and what we get when we eat at a restaurant (which I know can be a lot). Honestly though, I’m not too concerned about seasoning what we cook with salt because we don’t have that processed food intake, and as you said, it’s hard to hit the tablespoon without that stuff.

As far as cooking and flavor go, I like sea salt or kosher when I want bursts of salt from food (like a sauteed fish fillet I made the other day). Regular table salt is more for wanting the flavor evenly dissolved and distributed. In other words, for me its a question of how the flavor works with the dish.

Sonia August 24, 2011 - 5:28 PM

love the blog & site…lost 8 lbs, yay me..

Ginae July 16, 2012 - 10:12 PM

I use himalayan salt…i use to use sea salt until I read about hymalyan salt..it’s even better and has a lot of good stuff in it. read about it and it was definetely for me. i get mine at Whole Foods..Not cheap but not going to break your wallet either…

Chuck July 16, 2012 - 11:27 PM

Joel Fuhrman M.D. has an analogy to sea salt. If you add minerals to heroin, it is still heroin!

Denise July 29, 2012 - 4:10 PM

I have had to stop all excess salt. I no longer cook with it or use a “pinch” of it on my food, so all the sodium I’m getting right now is in any processed foods that I might ingest…. Sodium intake is the number one reason my BP is higher than it should be. I had to make the choice. I’ve already gotten used to food without salt, and I won’t lie, I do miss it with certain foods; but I know to keep my BP down, I can’t have it in even small quantities. *sigh*

Patricia Douglas July 31, 2012 - 6:18 PM

Hello Denise,
i had the bp problem also was on pills for it but now im not and bp is no joke so i congratulate you
on cutting it out i know how hard it is but your palate will get use to it and you will enjoy your food and actually taste it now.

Patricia Douglas July 31, 2012 - 6:11 PM

Great tips on other alternatives to salt, i had a thing for salt for so long… but since i started focusing on my health i have stopped cooking with and adding it to my food,i actually dont miss it. Now im having fun experimenting with different flavor combos !

Jasna August 8, 2012 - 6:39 AM

I have been eating food with minimum salt since I was a kid, didn’t like the taste, and for the last 5 years of living alone got used to not having any added salt at all. The great thing about that is when I tried KFC the first time in my life, it tasted so horrible and burned the inside of my lips (I bite that, a lot) I just left it and have never been tempted to try that kind of food again, it has below zero appeal. Any salty processed food feels too strong and unappealing.

It’s quite the opposite for sugary processed food. Bloody sugar.

Laurie August 8, 2012 - 8:25 AM

Thank you for the info, I wasn’t aware of this.

Karen October 18, 2012 - 11:03 PM

I’m so glad for this information about the effects of salt in the human body! Salt is not my friend, I swell like crazy!

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