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April 27, 2009

Salt: "the new bad guy"



Meredith Cohn has a good story on salt in today's paper. I was looking at the list of foods to pay most attention to, and it pretty much constitutes 90 percent of the American diet:

meat pizza, white bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti with sauce, ham, ketchup, cooked rice, white rolls, flour tortilla, salty snacks and whole milk.

Only whole milk and ketchup really surprised me, but I don't think of white bread as opposed to whole wheat bread as being particularly salty. Maybe the health benefits of whole grains outweigh the salt risk. ...




I've written about oversalted dishes in restaurants in earlier posts, so you know my feelings. But the sad thing is when I'm in control of the salt shaker, I often salt more than I should. I just don't like someone else doing it for me.

One good thing is that it's not all or nothing these days. Companies have started giving us options, so you can taper off with, for instance, lightly salted peanuts from Planters. Then when you get used to the taste of them, you can move on to unsalted.

Still, as I mentioned in that earlier post, sometimes you can't win. Doctors say it's impossible to get too little salt in your diet, but I have a friend who did just that. He was so careful his physician thought the low sodium levels in his blood indicated a serious health problem.

(iStock photo)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:47 PM | | Comments (34)


I understand and accept the oft repeated, "Salt enhances the flavor of our food." How many TV chefs have said that as they casually toss in a pinch? Sodium is the issue, and variious salts have greater or lesser amounts of sodium; yet clearly our diet is loaded with hidden sodium beyond what is healthy.

My wife and I ate recently in a favorite restaurant of ours where the food's major flavor was salt. Please tell me what was "enhanced" by the salt that was added in the kitchen to my perfectly pan seared scallops and risotto?

Let the food speak for itself.

I watch my sodium intake and have put away the salt shaker. And I read labels to choose items with lower sodium. Sometimes the same items can have huge differences in sodium.

Take the 6 oz. can of solid white albacore tuna, packed in water. The Winn-Dixie store brand has 380 mg of sodium. Star-Kist has 160 mg.

After leaving a cardiac unit with a clearn bill of health but a prescription for counseling by the social worker on ways to add more dietary salt, I can attest too much water and sweaty days can add up to needing more for some. On a timely note, a Facebook thread on swine flu as karmic retribution for eons of human enjoyment at porcine expense turned up this:

Neopol's smoked salts are good as well.

The worst? Salt 'N Peppa. The kids drove me half-nuts in the '80s with their repeated listenings....

"Yes, Peppa"
"Are you ready?"
"Yes, Peppa"
"Let's go"
"Yes, Peppa".

See what i mean?
And It gets Much Better from there!

I didn't realize the critical role salt played in ketchup until I bought the low-sodium kind in a fit of healthfulness. It turned into a fit of un-earth-friendliness when I promptly threw the bottle out: It was horrific. Salty ketchup on salty fries = yes, please.

Hey! I love Salt N Peppa!

Just because some lazy chef over-salted your food doesn't mean that some salt doesn't bring out the flavours in food.

Don't worry. In a few years scientists and nutritionists will "discover" the benefits of salt. Seems to me we went through this twenty years or so ago.

The article is correct about having to get used to the taste of common foods without salt. I've had "No Salt Added" Ketchup and it just didn't taste right. I also took a look at a container of whole milk I have and for the ingredients it just says "Milk." I guess the salt is a natural ingredient. But I'm sure someone will figure out a way to get the salt out of milk and charge twice as much. Funny how not including the salt costs more. You'd think that whatever-it-is would cost less because there's less cost for ingredients. There are now "Half the Salt" canned vegetables. I guess the No Salt Added ones weren't being bought and they have to give those following whatever the current fad is something to buy.

I guess I'm just being overly cynical.

I have always had an aversion to anything "salty". I think grandma did that to me by ruining her otherwise delicious meals with wayyyyyyyyy too much salt. She even put it (heavily) on my grandfather's labor-of-love fruits and veggies from his no-pesticides-used garden produce. A perfectly beautiful tomato, cantaloupe, watermelon, pot of string beans ruined by the iron hand of grandma and the salt shaker.
Having said that, I do confess that my own hand is continually cramped from grinding on the fresh peppercorns.....I LOVE ground pepper, however, I use it on my own food at serving as opposed to subjecting any guests to my idea of how much is enough.

Since I've cut back on my salt intake, I really notice salt in a lot of foods. I agree with Lissa, salt certainly brings out the flavor.

But I admit that I do buy the "no salt added" canned veggies. I just put on some Mrs. Dash and they are quite good. The veggies do have some naturally occurring salt. That and the Mrs. Dash seasons them enough for me. Plus, the Promise margarine I use has a little bit of sodium in it as well.

It works for me. I have high blood pressure and it runs in my family, so I need to watch my salt intake.

Lone Lady-
Salt? On watermelon??!?!


In general though, I find the prospect of high sodium and heart problems to be slightly less terrifying than what might happen to me if I were to consume any "salt substitutes."

Observe: Nu-Salt. I had the misfortune of trying some of this actually burns when it hits your tongue. Scary.

I went to the grocery store yesterday and looked at probably 10-15 things I wanted to buy but when I checked the sodium levels, they were outrageous. The worst culprits are usually "diet" foods - they must make up the loss of fat and taste with sodium. Have a look someday at the fat-free or reduced-fat salad dressings, for example.

I disagree with the characterization of snacks as being necessarily high in sodium - compare, for example, a serving of UTZ potato chips - 95 mg of sodium vs. a 2 tbsp serving of "fat free" salad dresssing - upwards of 500-600 mg of sodium.

I can always tell when I've eaten something really high in sodium when I eat lunch out because I feel like crap for hours afterward. I finally started looking up the nutritional info at those places and some sandwiches had something close to 1500 - 1800 mg of sodium. No wonder.

I remember an uproar a few years ago about Quiznos refusing to disclose the sodium content of their food. Not sure whether they do now.

Enh. A little salt can go a long way. It's just that the definition of little is not half the shaker which most people seem to forget. Personally, I might do a quick twist of the grind for a touch of sea salt in something I'm cooking, but my current seasoning of choice is a nice tri-peppercorn (black,white,green) blend.

Before reading this posting, I happened to stop in a little grocery store in Gretna, NE, to gather a few provisions. I noted that there was a new flavor of Vic's Popcorn on the shelves. Along side the regular, cheese and Kettle style there is now one labeled "Half Salt." Sure enough, the sodium content on the label was listed as exactly half that of the regular popcorn.

Oh sure we all have high blood pressure due to excessive salt, but on the plus side we have banished the Goiter Belt from our nation.

LJ, good point about the snacks.

You can have 28 blue diamond smokehouse almonds (which is a lot, I never eat that many in one serving) for 150 mg sodium. That's not bad at all compared to a lot of other food.

The key here is portion control. Some of the servings these days would have fed a family of four when I was growing up in the distant past.

Dahlink, you are so right! I just heard recently that the Burger King double cheeseburger kids meal has an entire days worth of calories - and they are marketing that to children!

Lone Lady and TwoToedSloth, I grew up with salt on watermelon. Perhaps not ladled on with grandma's iron hand, but it has a nice salty-sweet yin-yang thing going with you put a light sprinkle on there. (But how ironic that I'm defending salt on watermelon, since I'm one of those odd people who doesn't quite understand why people seem to love watermelon so much. Eh!)

I must say that when I first saw this post yesterday I was afraid it was about the restaurant Salt - afraid they'd done something appalling that meant I "couldn't" go back. Whew!

RiE, my understanding is that salt is also a preservative and, in addition to NaCl, many foods contain preservatives that are sodium-based. I think that, aside from the charge-more-for-the-trend aspect, diminshed shelf life actually be a legitimate reason for the higher price of low/no sodium foods.

LJ and Bourbon Girl, you can fix your salt problems by buying natural whole foods. All those processed foods you buy have a lot of sodium in other forms like MSG (S is Sodium). Plus you can get fresh almonds without the added rancid oil for at least half the price of the processed chemical ones. Go natural, save money

Natural is just a marketing term these days, as is, unfortunately, organic. Unprocessed, however, still means a little.

My chocolate chip cookies, while not exactly healthy, don't have weird chemicals and boatloads of salt in them. They do, however, contain nuts.

That Auntie whatever brand of mac and cheese that is supposed to be organic and all natural and good for you has more salt in it than Kraft Dinner. Organic, all natural salt is still salt.

I don't understand, can't you just buy nuts, ingredients=nuts. I bought raw cashews once and they tasted not so good, so I roasted them myself. I just put them in a pan on low heat and shook and tossed the pan while they roasted. They were the best cashews ever because they tasted freshly roasted. It's not much work and kind of fun. I think I sprinkled a little fine fleur de sel (salt) on them too, much much less than in the supermarket ones.

I looked at many "organic" salad dressings the other day in the store and they had more sodium in them than regular salad dressing and low fat salad dressing.

Yes, of course you and I can roast our own nuts, OMG, but when supermarkets are making money by selling pre-cut carrot and celery sticks to customers who evidently find that too challenging or time-consuming, I think we find ourselves in a minority here.

Salad dressing in a jar? Oh LJ you're better than that. :-)

I learned the best way to make a salad when a waiter made one for me at my table in Argentina. A little high quality olive oil in an empty bowl plus a pinch of salt. Add salad and toss thoroughly. Sprinkle some balsamic vinegar on top and toss lightly. You want to do the oil first so that the little you use sticks to the lettuce. It's so simple that the flavor of the salad really comes through. I prefer a salad of just one or two ingredients for extra simplilcity.

You can do the same with sesame oil and rice wine vinegar for a carrot or cucumber salad. The simplest is the most rewarding.

Owlie, I roast my own coffee, but I generally don't roast my own nuts. I work close enough to the Peanut Shoppe that I just get theirs.

I do toast spices, though.

The Owl boy roasted his own nuts... heh heh heh....

Oh beloved BG you had to go there?

Stock response: I thought that was your job. Badda boom.

Okay, enough vaudeville for tonight, I have to go help LJ smoke her ... really? No, I quit.

Seriously I don't know how it would work for other nuts or ... legumes but those were some tasty cashews.

Now I have to get back to Midnight Sun apparently I started a swine flu panic there and YumPorchetta wants my head on a pike.

The Owl boy roasted his own nuts... heh heh heh....

Yesterday, when I read this admission, I giggled and snorted a bit but there was something about seeing it in print this morning, that just knocked me out. My mascara is all over the place and I am just exhausted from the laughing. I may need to go home.

If we demonize salt, pretty soon food will start on a slide towards the bland side and we'll stop eating for sport - the horror!

I had no idea you could cook *on* salt.

Lissa , that would be perfect for your brother. Just remind him to remove the shell from the egg before placing it on the salt slab.

Laura Lee, that might be beyond him.

Wouldn't it rock for cooking steaks, though?

Some time before, I did need to buy a building for my firm but I didn't have enough money and could not buy something. Thank goodness my mother adviced to take the business loans from trustworthy creditors. So, I did that and was satisfied with my collateral loan.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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