With salt’s link to serious conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease, many of us are trying to reduce our sodium intake—some of us on doctor’s orders. Reaching for the salt shaker less often could have a major payoff: Cutting just a half teaspoon of salt out of our diets every day could reduce our rates of coronary heart disease and stroke roughly by a third, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But, let’s be honest: A salt habit can be a hard to kick, oftentimes because we believe that adding this table staple to what we’re eating is the only way to make it more palatable—and that taking it away will remove some of the joy of eating too.
Fortunately, a lower-sodium diet does not have to mean a lifetime of flavorless food. The next time you’re in the kitchen, consider these alternatives to another pinch of salt. You may find that they make what you’re eating not only far more healthy, but delicious to boot. Doing more of your own cooking and limiting processed foods and some high-sodium restaurant foods can also go a long way in helping you to reduce your sodium intake.
Salt Substitutes and Light Salts
These products may be helpful for you if you’re not ready to give up salty flavor all together just yet.
The most commonly used salt substitute is potassium chloride, which contains no sodium but has a salt-like flavor. Salt substitutes can be good options, but you should avoid potassium chloride if you have kidney disease or if you take medications for high blood pressure or congestive heart failure that cause your body to retain potassium. (Check with your doctor to determine if these products are right for you.)
“Light” or “lite” salts usually contain a blend of potassium chloride and sodium chloride (the main component in salt)—so they still contain sodium, but less than what’s in your shaker right now. Go easy on light salts: You may use more of them than you would regular salt to attain the flavor you’re used to, and as a result, you may consume just as much sodium as if you hadn’t made the switch.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices can add flavor and variety to dishes in a way that you may find meets or beats the results you get with salt. And in addition to being sodium-free and tasty, herbs and spices are some of the top sources of disease-fighting antioxidants in our diets.
A few tips for using herbs and spices:
- Herbs can be used either dried or fresh. Dried herbs are generally twice as strong as fresh herbs. Crush dried herbs in the palm of your hand before adding them to food to release their aromatic oils and enhance the flavor they bring to your cooking.
- Buy small containers of dried herbs and spices because time tends to destroy their flavors. They have a maximum shelf life of six months. (It might be time to replace some of yours!)
Here are some of flavorful combinations we recommend:
Good for Poultry:
- Bouquet Garni: Parsley, bay leaf, thyme
- Greek Delight: Lemon zest, thyme
- Herbes des Provence: Marjoram, oregano, thyme, summer savory
- Tastes Like Turkey: Sage, thyme, marjoram
Try it on Seafood:
- Fine Herbs: Parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon
- Hint of Asia: Garlic, ginger, rice wine vinegar
- A Little Green: Lemon juice, oregano, garlic, rosemary
- Mexican Spice: Cumin, chili powder, cilantro, lime juice
Spice Up Veggies:
- Italian Medley: Garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar
- Spring Splash: Lemon juice, parsley, dill
- Quatre Epices: Ground pepper, cloves, ginger, nutmeg
Vinegars, Juices and Extracts
Other sodium-free seasonings include vinegars, citrus juices and zests (the colored outer peel of citrus fruits) and extracts. The following will add loads of flavor but zero (or close to no) fat, calories or sodium to your recipes:
Vinegar (use in marinades and salad dressings):
- Red wine
- Rice wine
Juice and Zests (squeeze or grate directly on foods for a hit flavor):
Extracts (blend into oatmeal, applesauce and more for an unexpected element of richness)
If you don’t feel like mixing up your own spice blend, there are many brands of salt-free seasoning mixes on the market. Read the list of ingredients to make sure you are not buying a mix that contains salt, sodium chloride or monosodium glutamate (MSG), and be aware that some salt-free blends include the potassium chloride, which some people should avoid.