As I was putting away my collection of snowman 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.
I’ve been collecting salt and pepper shakers for many years. The collection includes a bunch of bunnies that are perched on a table for spring. On the positive side, most of my salt shakers are merely decorative, with no salt in them.
Through 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.
In fact, the main source of sodium in our diet is not our salt shakers. Most sodium comes from processed food and restaurant-prepared food, which account for 75 percent of our intake.
Despite admonishments from nutrition professionals, salt intake is an ongoing concern. The 2015-2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day from all sources. That’s about the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt from all sources. The American Heart Association recommends less sodium: no more than 1,500 milligrams per day.
Most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.
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. Other factors, such as weight, family history, inactivity and smoking also are linked with high blood pressure risk.
Through 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 you will have greater success if you do it gradually. Consider these tips and don’t forget to read the Nutrition Facts labels to learn about your favorite foods.
- Enjoy plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially fresh and frozen (without sauces and seasoning) types. Read about the sodium content in canned vegetables and soups. Drain and rinse canned beans to cut sodium content by 40 percent.
- Consider fresh, unprocessed meat, fish and poultry as lower sodium alternatives to processed meats.
- Use fresh or dried herbs to season foods.
- Remember that packaged, prepared “dinners” and “side dishes” usually have a much higher sodium content than plain potatoes, rice or vegetables.
- Consider some of the reduced-sodium foods at the grocery store, especially if you’ve been advised by a health-care provider to limit your sodium intake.
We recently released a new “Do It Yourself Spice Mixes” guide. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/do-it-yourself-spice-mixes/fn1826.pdf for recipes to make a Mexican and Ranch blend, as well as recipes to go with the Italian Spice blend.
Italian Spice Blend
2 Tbsp. basil, dried
2 Tbsp. oregano, dried
1 Tbsp. thyme, dried
1 Tbsp. rosemary, dried
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. onion powder
Use in yogurt as a dip with celery and carrots, or on baked chicken or popcorn.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)