While the body does need some sodium to function properly, salt is consumed in abundance in the American diet. In fact, Americans consume almost double the recommended daily amount of salt each day. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a healthy diet. Yet, the average American gets more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.
The problem: Overconsumption of dietary sodium is a major risk factor for hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure. Hypertension increases your risk of developing heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, and kidney failure — and is known as the “silent killer” because it does not display any symptoms until the damage has already been done.
The good news is, reducing sodium intake can significantly reduce your risk for hypertension, and over time can help you to crave salt less, too. One of the easiest places to dial back the salt in your diet is with home cooked meals. Skipping out on added salt doesn’t have to mean skipping out on flavor!
Here are 3 delicious ways to flavor your foods, sans salt:
Incorporating the optimal blends of lemon juice and zest to a meal can change the entire flavor profile, and aid in digestion, as the citric acid contained in lemon juice helps break down fats, carbohydrates and protein. Whether it be by adding lemon slices atop fish before baking in the oven, or a squeeze of fresh juice for steamed vegetables, lemon is a fantastic salt-free way to flavor a dish.
One way to utilize lemons is to create a gremolata. A gremolata is a chopped-herb condiment that pairs well with fish, chicken or green vegetables. To make, simply mix lemon zest, with chopped parsley and grated garlic — the three ingredients come together to create a unique, fresh flavor that can truly kick up a dish, sans salt!
Opt for herbs
Using herbs when you cook is a great way to reduce the overall salt, fat and sugar content without sacrificing flavor. Not only do herbs provide a multitude of health benefits because they’re packed with antioxidants, but they’re readily available and highly cost effective too. While fresh herbs typically have a stronger aroma, dried herbs are more potent and concentrated, and therefore less is needed.
Start incorporating herbs into your cooking today. Rosemary is commonly used to elevate chicken dishes and mint, which can help relieve digestive distress, and can enhance pea salad, berries or roasted vegetables. Basil can be added to tomato salads, or chopped and combined with oil and garlic to make a pesto. Dill works well with steamed carrots, and parsley and chives can be scrambled into egg whites to give them a fresh kick.
Try salt-free seasoning mixes
While seasoning packets are a viable time-saving shortcut for home-cooked meals, many of them contain over 50 percent salt! Salt-free seasoning mixes, like Mrs. Dash, do exist and can be an excellent item to keep in the kitchen. Such mixes can be used as is, sprinkled atop a dish for an extra kick, like table salt, or in the cooking process.
To create a marinade, which helps tenderize food before it’s grilled, mix your salt-free seasoning blend of choice with oil. Another way to use salt-free seasoning mixes is as a dry rub for meats before cooking. Simply pat your protein dry, rub mix onto each side of each piece, and let it sink into the meat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, dust your meat off and place it on the grill. This will take you BBQ to the next level without feeling bloated from salty meats that can cause water retention.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.