Breaking the salt habit isn’t an easy thing to do. The salt taste buds on the sides of your tongue want to be satisfied. They don’t care that too much salt in the diet increases the risk of hypertension for certain people (African-Americans and people older than 40, as well as increasing blood pressure with those who already have high blood pressure). Those taste buds just want to be stimulated. And when a food isn’t salty enough to satisfy them, the taste buds seem to drive one to get out the salt shaker.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the average American intake of 3,400 mg of sodium a day is far too much and way over the suggested 1500 mg of sodium for those at risk to 2400 mg for a healthy individual. And where is most of that sodium coming from? It’s coming from packaged and processed foods.
Soup is notoriously high in sodium (some varieties can use up one’s daily allowance in just one serving). Yet, you have to give the soup companies credit. They are offering soups in reduced-sodium versions so there are options out there. And, from the research on sales, it appears that people are slurping them up. If you’re one of those people, pat yourself on the back.
Are you also cutting back on processed foods such as hot dogs, bologna, and snack foods? Those are all high in salt (not to say anything about the fat). If you really want to cut down on your sodium intake to avoid heart disease and stroke, then try increasing the amount of herbs you cook with.
The reason for adding salt to food is to pique the flavor buds and get them to notice what are the real flavors of the food. Yet, this can be done quite well with herbs, a splash of lemon juice, a bit of garlic or spices.
Instead of relying on your salt taste buds to translate the flavors of the food, work more on the center and back of your tongue, stimulating your tongue’s recognition of bitter and one of the newer taste senses, “umami”. Umami can be described as savory and meaty. And, fortunately, umami can be sensed everywhere on the tongue. Add a little garlic to your dish, and you’ve upped the umami factor. This isn’t to say you have to give sodium or salt up completely. Just use it appropriately – not sprinkling it on everything you eat – especially without trying the food first. Not only do you need to learn how to get rid of the salt habit, you have to shake the salt shaker habit.
That’s my husband – Mr. Salt Shaker. After all the effort I put into making a dish just perfect, he’ll sprinkle salt on even before tasting it. So I decided one year to run an experiment on getting him to shake the shaker habit. Unbeknownst to him, I added some sugar to the salt shaker. It looks just like sodium so he couldn’t tell by looking at it. Everything was going just great until I served potato skins one night. Now those he thought really needed a good shake of salt. After several shakes and then another several shakes, he looked at me, asking why the potato skins tasted so sweet. Oh well, my ruse was up. I was found out and that was the last attempt I made to get him to eat less salt. The take-away message here: Only you can change you.
If you want to have the food manufacturers make more lower-salt foods, then speak with your dollars. Buy reduced-sodium versions of foods you like. Eventually the food companies will get the message. When only their lower-sodium foods are selling, you can be darn sure that they’ll make the shift.
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