The Trouble with Salt, Part 2

In the first part of this post, I exposed the briny danger lurking in the foreground of the American diet: too much salt. In this chapter, I aim to tell you what you can do to kick the salt habit, slim down, and even end up tasting your food better too.

Just say no

Just like with quitting smoking (I know; ex-smoker here), the most effective way to end your salt dependency is cold turkey. Cold, unsalted turkey.

A group of angry turkeys
Damn, turkey. Why you so cold?
As anyone who has tried to quit something by sheer willpower alone can tell you, it’s one of the most difficult things you can do. But if you can make it stick, it’ll stick for good.

Unfortunately, cutting back your salt intake may mean choking down quite a few meals and snacks that, by comparison, seem bland and flavorless. Here are some suggestions to make the transition easier:

Cook your own food

This one seems a bit obvious. It’s easy to control how much salt you eat if you are the one making the food.

Question the authority of recipes

To that end, be rational when it comes to how much salt a recipe says to use. Does it seem like a lot? It probably is.

Scale back a little at a time

Fortunately, tastebuds can be retrained. By cutting back your sodium intake in increments, you will barely notice the changes you are making to your diet. That is, of course, until you eat something that has as much salt in it as you used to use.

Take the salt shaker off your table

Seriously. If you cook your own food and are careful about correctly seasoning it, you won’t need to use salt at the table.

More on that:

  • At a restaurant: As a former professional cook, I find salting at the table to be insulting. A recipe has usually had its salt content determined by a trained professional wishing to make a culinary statement. Adding your own at the table (especially before you’ve tasted the food) sends the message that you know better than the cook.
  • At home: Seasoning food as you cook it makes important chemical changes to the ingredients, bringing them more in harmony together. By moderating how much salt you add as you cook, your food will taste more balanced and you can get away with using less salt.
  • At home: There are some who cook without salt and let the seasoning be determined at the last minute by the diner. Beyond the issue listed above, when you salt at the table, you usually use a significant amount more salt than you would have if you had seasoned while cooking.

::End rant::

Eat fresh

No, not at Subway.

Eating fresh fruits, veggies, and meats (opposed to packaged ones) is not only delicious but ensures that you consume less sodium (source).

An inconvenient truth

Perhaps even more daunting than the task of consuming less salt is the fact that you’re about to wake up in a whole new world. Yes, food will taste more delicious, you might lose some weight, and your heart will be healthier, but you still have to exist in an over-salted world. Restaurants you used to adore now seem unpalatable. After a night of delicious snackage, you wake up to a puffy, bloated shell of your former self. What can be done?

Look for low-sodium everything

Soy sauce, chicken broth, table salt (jk). Be a label nazi. Almost everything has a low-sodium substitute.

Just ask

If you’re at a restaurant, tell your server you’re on a low-sodium diet (pretty much all Americans should be). Ask if there is any way for the cooks to cut down on the amount of salt they use. Obviously, this is easier for things that are prepared fresh like steaks and not so much for things like sauces but you’d be surprised how much you can be accommodated (in fact, asking for fries or popcorn with no salt often guarantees that you’re getting a fresh batch).

There’s probably much more to be said on the subject of salt and the American diet. I know it’s hard to restrict but no real gain ever comes without sacrifice.

Go boldly into a saltless world. Your heart, waist, and tongue will thank you.


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