The more you shun salt, the more your body benefits, and these fresh ideas will treat your taste buds, too!
What happens if I eat too much salt?
The problem with excessive salt consumption is the risk of hypertension — abnormally high blood pressure that stresses the heart and surrounding blood vessels, ramping up your risk of stroke and heart failure. To rub salt into the wound, health experts link hypertension to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Excess salt also prompts the body to retain fluid, as it needs water to flush out the salt. This can be problematic for people with heart, renal and liver issues. People who suffer from bloating can ease their fluid retention by following a low-sodium diet.
If salt’s so bad for me, why do I like it?
People have used salt to preserve food for centuries. Although we now have modern technology to keep our food from spoiling, our enthusiasm for enhancing food with salt is, well, hard to shake. In fact, we’ve become so used to salt-enhanced flavours that we often find that low-sodium meals taste bland. As a result, we’re constantly reaching for the salt shaker and salty condiments to intensify the flavour of our food, often before we’ve even tasted it!
Fortunately, we can retrain our taste buds, which is great news for our health. The strength of salt can dull our awareness of other taste sensations, so as we become accustomed to eating less salt, our taste buds become more sensitive to a wide range of subtle flavours.
Want more good news? Your taste buds take only a short time to adjust to unsalted foods. Try gradually decreasing your salt consumption over two to three weeks. You’ll soon find that foods you previously enjoyed start to taste too salty.
How much salt do I really need?
The National Heart Foundation suggests a daily target of fewer than 6g (or 2300mg) of sodium, which is equivalent to roughly one and a half teaspoons of salt.
Remember: Most of the salt we eat is hiding in processed foods. (Even bread is high in added salt, as it helps bread rise.) And that leaves us no wiggle room to be sprinkling our food with extra salt!
Bring food to life with deliciously unique flavour and colour!
Enhance main meals
Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking or just before serving, so they don’t wilt or discolour.
Add basil leaves to pasta sauces, or tear them over tomato and mozzarella.
Scatter chopped coriander into soups, salads and curries. This aromatic herb lifts many dishes, so use it generously!
Pile parsley onto salads, rice and couscous, or mix it with tuna. Garnish stews and casseroles, too.
Sprinkle chopped mint into Asian soups and salads, or tear it over steamed greens.
Dried herbs tend to taste more intense than the fresh variety, so season meat with them before cooking.
Add dried oregano to tomato-based sauces, including bolognese and chicken cacciatore.
Make a dry herb-based rub for delicious-tasting grilled or roast meats. Combine dried rosemary and chilli flakes with a little lemon zest.
Cook with zest for a citrusy tang
The zest and juice of citrus fruits add fresh flavour with an edge.
Toss strips of zest into vegie dishes for the last 30 seconds of cooking time. Heat mellows zest’s tang, giving it a deliciously different flavour.
Grate or peel the zest of lemons or limes into spicy Moroccan tagines and fragrant Thai curries. Stir zest into couscous or rice to give the grains bite.
Let zest bring zing to vegetable sides such as asparagus, broccoli and sugar snap peas.
Add spice and aroma
Ground spices, such as cumin and paprika, give meals an exotic spicy kick.
Add spice to stir-fries and curries at the start of cooking. Stir to toast for a minute to release the flavour and aroma.
Use spices to make salad dressings. Mix fresh orange juice, vinegar and olive oil with cumin, coriander or the spice of your choice. (You really won’t miss the salt!)
Use paste for taste
Reduced-salt tomato paste has a strong flavour that can lift all kinds of dishes.
Add 1 tablespoon to ratatouille, Mexican chillies or soups for extra richness.
Give dishes some depth
Create intense flavour with the allium family, which comprises onion, garlic, leek, chives and shallots.
Ramp up the flavour of stews, casseroles, curries and sauces by adding more onion and garlic at the start of cooking.
Toss shallots or chives into salads, and add them at the end of cooking curries, stir-fries and Asian soups.
Wrap garlic bulbs in foil and slowly roast until soft. Use their delicious pulp to flavour roasts and vegies.
Turn up the heat
Experiment with different types of fresh or dried chillies for varying degrees of heat.
Add chilli to stir-fries, curries and soups with the other aromatics (such as onion and garlic) at the start of cooking or as a final garnish for extra kick.
Fresh ginger gives meals a fragrant warmth. Grate it into salads and dressings, or add it to soups, curries and stir-fries.
Reasons to cut salt
Excessive thirst: Salt makes you thirsty, so if you’re gulping water after a meal, you’re probably eating high-sodium food, such as pizza, pepperoni, salami or an Asian dish that’s heavily laced with soy sauce.
Fast food: If you eat lots of takeaway and junk food, you’re almost certainly consuming far too much salt. Processed foods are also loaded with salt, which manufacturers add to extend storage life and enhance flavour.
Belly bloat: A high-salt diet forces the body to retain fluid to counterbalance the excess sodium. Swollen legs or ankles, or a puffy face, are signs that you may be eating too many salty foods.
Cutting our national salt intake could prevent 5800 heart attacks a year. (Source: National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2014)
The nutrition information panels on food packaging list salt as sodium.