Great Tasting Alternatives to Table Salt

Most adults probably know that we need to watch our sodium intake in order to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. However, sodium is harder to avoid than you might think. That’s because the typical Western diet includes a lot of processed and prepared foods, most of which contain a great deal of salt. If fact, approximately 90% of our daily sodium intake comes from these kinds of foods. Only 10% of the salt we consume is the direct result of salt being added as seasoning during cooking or while sitting at the table. This means that reducing the amount of processed and prepared foods in our diet is really the key to taking control of our sodium intake. However, once you take control, it becomes very important to have seasoning alternatives to traditional table salt. Let’s talk about “why” and then about “how”.

Excess intake of sodium chloride raises the risk of stroke and heart attack. However, studies have also shown that LOW salt diets can also increase your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. So the best advice available at the moment is to keep sodium chloride levels down to a reasonable level and eating the right KIND of salt. The trouble for most of us is that our taste buds get in the way. The simple truth is that our tastes have been shaped by our diet, which (for most Americans) tends to be heavy on fat, sugar and salt. When these things are reduced or absent, our food tastes bland to us unless some other flavor picks up the slack—even when we cook everything from scratch. So what’s to be done?

Part of the answer is to rethink salt. Typical table salt is 98% sodium chloride and 2% anti-caking material. Other trace elements (the kind found in natural sea salt) are usually removed during processing. But these trace elements—including calcium, potassium and magnesium—are actually important for our health and they add interesting flavors of their own. This is why some nutrition and culinary experts suggest that you use natural, unrefined salt in your salt shaker. This type of salt sometimes goes by names like “Celtic” sea salt or “gray” sea salt. The gray color indicates that the salt has not been bleached and stripped of other minerals. It usually tastes a lot better too, providing a richer and fuller flavor to your foods and allowing you to use less of it to achieve the same effect.

What about so-called “salt substitutes”? For the most part, these have been shown to fall short of the mark in terms of flavor. Consumer Reports conducted a blind taste test of four different commercial salt alternatives, almost all of which tasted metallic, bitter, or had an unpleasant aftertaste. The exception was Diamond Crystal Salt Sense, which tasted nearly like salt, and had about a third less sodium than table salt.

If you want to remove the salt shaker entirely from the dinner table, however, there are a few alternatives for adding flavor without the sodium. Perhaps the most healthy and flavorful of the salt alternatives is kelp flakes. Because kelp is a sea vegetable, the flakes not only impart a salty flavor, but they also provide a lot of minerals, particularly iodine, which has been added to common table salt for years to reduce thyroid disease. Kelp has naturally occurring iodine, in addition to folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin K. If you have thyroid problems, however, be sure to consult with your doctor before using kelp flakes.

Other tasty alternatives to using table salt in your cooking are garlic (try roasting a few cloves drizzled with olive oil in the oven for 30 minutes, then blending it into potatoes, pasta, etc. for an almost sweet, nutty flavor), herbs and spices. These can add considerable flavor without adding sodium.

More Upside to the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has received a great deal of attention in the popular media over the past couple of years. But for those in the healthcare community, it’s even more exciting that growing evidence of its benefits has also been showing up in well-regarded medical and scientific journals.

Act One: The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health

Much of the excitement about the Mediterranean diet has centered on its ability to promote cardiovascular health. And there’s good reason for this. Researchers from the University of Barcelona recently published the findings of a large-scale 5-year study involving 7,447 people in the New England Journal of Medicine. The aim of their research was not to reduce common risk factors such as participants’ cholesterol, blood pressure or weight, but to count the number of actual heart attacks, strokes and deaths from any cause to evaluate how effective the Mediterranean diet was in reducing these events and increasing longevity.

The subjects of this particular study had been specifically selected to participate because they had significant cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, a family history of heart disease and being overweight. Over the course of their investigation, the researchers found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of death from the effects of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke, by 30%. They were also 40% less likely to have suffered a stroke in the study’s 4-year follow-up period than those who followed a low-fat diet.

This research made a significant impression on many of those who examined the work. Dr. Steven E. Nissen, from the Cleveland Clinic’s department of cardiovascular medicine noted “Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent. And you can actually enjoy life.”

Act Two: The Mediterranean Diet and Brain Health

Alongside research into the cardiovascular health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, there has also been exciting new research into the brain health benefits. A group of investigators—again in Barcelona—placed 447 cognitively healthy individuals (average age 67 years) in one of three dietary groups:

  • A group of participants that ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (1 liter per week)
  • A group of participants that ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (30 grams per day)
  • A control diet group of participants that was advised to reduce dietary fat.

Participants in all three groups received baseline cognitive function tests at the beginning of the study, and those remaining in the study after approximately 4 years (about 75% of them) were tested again at the end of this period. The participants who consumed the Mediterranean diet with additional with extra virgin olive oil experienced significantly better cognitive function, while those who ate the mixed nuts experienced significant improvements in memory. At the same time, those participants who followed the low-fat control diet experienced a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

Why are olive oil and nuts brain boosters? Scientists have a few theories, but one of the most widely cited has to do with oleic acid. Both olive oil and nuts are rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid that is a key ingredient in myelin, a protective covering that twists around nerves (neurons), including those in the human brain. The myelin sheath is critical for nerve functioning. It insulates nerves and prevents electrical current from leaking out of the axon so that they can communicate effectively with each other. The brain—of course—depends on the foods we eat for nourishment, so it’s not surprising that some foods may positively affect performance while others may hamper it. The antioxidant-rich foods in Mediterranean diets as well as nuts and olive oil provide nourishment to the brain and appear to help protect against overall brain health and cognitive decline.

Breakfast Ideas to keep you Hydrated

This fruity orange blend is made with yogurt, which contains tons of water, and, if you opt for Greek instead of plain, tons of extra protein as well.