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Chef AJ Talks Salt! Part 1

“Take it with a grain of salt”, “She is the salt of the earth” or “He isn’t worth his weight in salt”.  The English language is as peppered with idioms using the word salt as the American diet is with salt itself.  Believe it or not, most people do not get most of their salt from the salt shaker, but from eating nutrient poor processed foods.  With many Americans consuming upwards of 70% of their calories from this junk, that’s a heck of a lot of salt that they are ingesting on a daily basis.

Both my parents already had advanced heart disease by the time I was born so I grew up without eating salt and that was one addiction that I never developed.  I actually remember the first time I tasted salt.  A friend had given me a pretzel rod with the salt on the outside.  Never having eaten salt, I thought it was disgusting and I spit it out.  It actually made me feel like I wanted to vomit.  I have since learned that salt has actually been used as an emetic since ancient times and even today will be recommend by poison control centers to induce vomiting.

Salt is also used as a preservative and flavor enhancer which is why you will find it in just about every processed food item known to man.  With the exception of canned salt-free beans, and perhaps a few condiments like salt-free mustard, you will be pretty hard pressed to find a processed food item that does not contain salt.  So, the obvious thing to do if you were trying to reduce your salt consumption is to stop eating processed food.  And that means all processed food.  Even gluten-free, organic, vegan processed food made by an ethical company is still too high in sodium and not health promoting.  We are designed to eat our food whole, not processed.  So enjoy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as they are found in nature, and not from a can, box, bottle or bag.

If you want to learn why it’s so hard for you to stop eating processed food in general, and salt in particular, read “The End of Overeating” by Dr. David Kessler.  He clearly explains to you how sugar, fat and salt are each individually addictive, and even more so when used in concert with each other.  The more sugar, fat and salt you eat, the more sugar, fat and salt you want.  Salt is an appetite stimulant.  The more of it you use, the more food you will eat.  Think about how much air popped popcorn you could eat if it were plain versus if it were salted.  If you are trying to lose weight, try to refrain from adding salt to your food and see if you don’t eat less.  And be very careful when eating at restaurants.  As a former restaurant chef I can honestly tell you that restaurants use way more salt (and sugar and oil) in their food than you would ever use at home.  The more salt they put in their food the more food people will eat.  If people eat more, they will order more.  Most restaurants have the biggest profit margin on their beverages and by over salting their food, people will also drink more.  Didn’t you ever wonder why they offer free salted peanuts at bars?

In the program I run with John Pierre, The 30 Day Unprocessed Challenge, we teach people to eat a whole food plant based diet free of added SOS (sugar, oil and salt). I lovingly call these 3 items “The Evil Trinity”.  We have found that people adapt to an oil-free and refined-sugar free diet fairly quickly.  We teach them how to cook and bake without oil and they really don’t seem to miss it.  If people want to eat some added whole food fats, in moderation, a few nuts, seeds or avocado seems to satisfy their fat tooth.  And once people stop eating refined sugars, they really begin to appreciate how delicious fruit is and that will satisfy their sweet tooth.  But for people who love salt, there really doesn’t seem to be anything that as quickly and easily satisfies their “salt tooth”. So, for the folks who aren’t eating processed food but can’t seem to enjoy their food without salt, here is what we recommend:

  1.       Try substituting sour flavors instead.  Our taste buds for salt sit right next to our taste buds for sour.  Using things like lemon and lime juice, plus their zest, can trick your palate so that you think you ate something salty.
  2.      Bump up the other flavors in a dish.  Food can still be full of bold flavors without using salt.  Things like fresh herbs, onions and garlic (fresh or roasted) can add so much depth of flavor to your cooking.  If you like spicy food, using red pepper, smoked paprika, chipotle powder or even fresh chili peppers will make your meal so flavorful you won’t miss the salt.
  3.    Try using sundried tomato powder.  Did you know that it takes four pounds of fresh tomatoes to make a mere 3 ounces of sundried tomatoes?  While sundried tomatoes do not taste salty, they provide so much intense flavor from being so concentrated that they really bump up the flavor of your food.  You can buy sundried tomato powder from Valley Sun at 1-888-SUN-DRIED or make your own by taking oil-free sundried tomatoes in a blender or coffee grinder.  This may help with the habit of needing to sprinkle something on your food
  4.     Find a salt-free seasoning that you love.  All grocery stores carry several blends and they come in many varieties.  My favorite, which is also used by Dr. Klaper at True North, is called Benson’s Table Tasty.  Made from dehydrated lemon peel, it actually tastes salty.  I am fortunate to be able to buy it in Los Angeles but it is also available on line at www.BensonsGourmetSeasonings.com.  You can even contact the company for a free sample.
  5.     Eat foods that are naturally high in sodium.  The foods that are highest in sodium are GREEN VEGETABLES.  They are only 100 calories a pound so you can eat them with abandon.  Eat them daily and often, especially the dark green leafy ones.  Once you lick the salt habit, you will find that even celery begins to taste salty.  While most people won’t take the time to do this, you can actually dehydrate celery and then grind it and use it in place of salt.  For those without a dehydrator, just think of ways to add celery to recipes instead of salt.  When I make homemade salsa, I use finally chopped celery and none of my guests seem to miss the salt.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!

About the author

Chef AJ
Chef AJ works as a Vegan/Raw Pastry Chef in Los Angeles and as a Keynote Speaker and Culinary Instructor all across the United States. She is author of the book, "Unprocessed - How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight".

22 Responses to “Chef AJ Talks Salt! Part 1”

  1. Great tips! I have definitely noticed that about celery. I love using the lime and lemon juice and zest, and I also find that using nutritional yeast in my soups and hummus dips also adds that kick that is very satisfying in place of the salt. Looking forward to Part 2!

  2. Linda Carney MD says:

    You inspire me Chef AJ. I’m so glad you taught me in 2010 how and why to thrive without salt!

    • Chef Aj says:

      I wish there were more doctors like you! Most people don’t think it’s important to not eat salt, or at least reduce it. I’m sure you see in your practice lots of evidence to the contrary.

  3. Thanks for explaining the relationship of the taste buds. I’ve seen the lemon & lime juice used but had no idea why. I’m much more likely to try something if I have the reason behind it.

    • Chef Aj says:

      I learned this when working in a retirement home and we were prohibited from giving the patients any salt whatsoever.

    • Chef Aj says:

      I din’t know the science but I knew it worked when I worked at nursing homes where we could use no salt whatsoever. We were able to fool alot of the patients. The good newsis that once you really get off salt, you don’t miss it and food really starts tasting better. Then when you do have to eat like (like for me the only time is at an airport when my flight is delayed and Im starving) it tastes kind of yucky. And I can’t get my wedding ring off for days. You really realzie what a toxin it is once you are away from it and then reintroduce it.

  4. VeganMarr says:

    Excellent article & tips! Wanted to give it 5 stars but the star box doesnt seen to be functioning well.

  5. Caroline says:

    Thanks to you I’m hooked on Benson’s Table Tasty! I add it to my veggies, grains, beans, heck all savory foods. I can’t stand salty processed foods anymore.

    • Chef Aj says:

      That is so awesome Caroline. Living in LA I got to meet the creator of the line Debbie Benson, a lovely woman who created the line for her Mother who suffered from heart disease and could not consume any salt. She told me that Dr. Klaper at True North Health is her best customer. All the food theere is SOS free. I work there in December if you want to say hello. Table Tasty is my favorite followed by Bravado.

  6. Nanette says:

    I also do nutritional yeast to reduce salt. Another option I really like is Frontier Co-op’s no-salt Garlic Bread Seasoning.

  7. veganlady says:

    What about iodine?

  8. Martha says:

    I’m wondering – if you dehydrate and grind up celery, which is high in sodium, won’t you still be eating more sodium (even tho it’s “natural”)?

    • Chef Aj says:

      Yes, but it’s really no different than if you were to eat the celery as you have only removed the water. The amount of sodium in vegetables as compared to salt (2,400mg per teaspoon) is neglible. That is how historically our ancestors got their sodium, by eating vegetables which are also rich in vitamins and minerals.

  9. Elena says:

    Love the article. You certainly challenged me, since i do lightly salt my foods. I will have to have you do a guest post on my blog on this topic.

    • Chef Aj says:

      Would be an honor. But if you do use slat you are certainly using it in the most judicous way, lightly salting the surface of your foods where your taste buds can actually taste it rather than cooking with it where it dissapates.

  10. Cory Judge says:

    What are your thoughts on the pink Himalayan salt? I have been told that is actually good for you since it contains so many minerals.

    • Chef Aj says:

      Salt is salt. While there may be trace minerals, we don’t eat salt to get our minerals. That’s what green vegetables are for. All salt contains 2,400 mg of sodium and we only require about 50 mg a day for bodily function. Plus if you are eating any processed foods or even bread you are geting plenty of sodium. Eatimg salt makes you crave salt and you end up eating more salt and more food. So the best amount of salt, like oil, is really none. Especially if you already have heart disease or high blood pressure.

  11. I never had a sweet tooth but salt was always a real problem for me. In my college years, I’d go to a fast food place and actually add two packets of salt to my already salted french fries. It was awful.
    Over the past few years I’ve tried to dramatically reduce my salt intake. In cooking, I’ve replaced salt with lemon, lime, garlic pepper, and vinegar, and it really works! I’ve gone from dousing my food in salt to dousing it in something tangy like lime juice or apple cider vinegar and I don’t miss the salt at all. The last stand salt has been making in my life is in the form of potato chips. I recently went 3 weeks without eating any potato chips, and tried some again last night, and did not find them nearly as satisfying. Instead of binging on a bunch, I put the bag down very quickly because I just did not feel well after eating them.

    So as a former serious salt addict I can definitely attest it’s possible to give it up. To satisfy french fry or potato chip cravings, I make roasted potatoes often that are soaked in vinegar before roasting, and my husband is always amazed they are salt and oil free. They taste salty thanks to all the vinegar!

  12. elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the tip on Table Tasty, I received my free sample and ordered more right away, tastes great.

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