“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!