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no salt cooking (sigh)

here's a problem to be solved . . .
no salt diet for a diabetic who just had a heart operation...low fat, no salt, and an eye toward glycemic index
I know the Mrs Dash's and other flavor subs, but how about suggestions on things that work without salt because that is how they are naturally.
I just spent the past week cooking in this way for someone, and it wasn't easy. So much of what I do involves salt...or soy sauce or miso or anchovies etc etc etc

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  1. Forget the salt for a while. Think spices and herbs. Fresh, dried, either or. Olive oil or canola oil instead of butter. It can be done. Steamed veggies not fried. You'd be surprised how tasty organic meats and produce are once your palate becomes accustomed to the natural goodness of pure foods. Do some research and read, read, read.

    In the '50's my father was diagnosed with the highest blood pressure known to man and mother quickly went into recovery mode. We adjusted and are healthier for it. You will be too.

    1. I know this is a tough on that I work on constantly. High Blood Pressure....etc. I have found a lot is just getting used to the taste without salt. I still have found that steak and roast beef is one thing where salt is a must, but I eat them on rare occasions. Chicken on the other hand can be cooked in so many ways without salt. Rosemary enhances the flavor and is readily available. I use Mrs. Dash religiously, but I have purchased some of the other blends online and they can be very good also. BBQ rubs are good and can be bought without salt added. Mesquite is a favorite. Pork ribs, chicken, lamb all can be cooked using blends without salt. Good luck and experiment, it's a new mindset.

      1 Reply
      1. re: othervoice

        Absolutely right - red meat "on rare occasions".... if at all, as the doctor told mother!
        (Better not at all if truth be told. For now anyway.)

      2. I find that working with more acids really makes up for the lack of salt. Adding something acidic where you feel may need salt is great. I think it just sort of tricks your palate; where you want salt, you'll find a nice acidity. Adding heat like from chiles can make bland food a lot better. It's really just overbearing your palate with a lot of different types of flavors that you won't miss the saltiness.

        6 Replies
        1. re: digkv

          I think the acid suggestion is a good one. Just a touch of lemon juice or vinegar does a lot to brighten flavors and help to heighten contrast.

          1. re: jlafler

            Lemon and Lime if you can get away with it in the dish. Won't work for all, but fish, chicken, and pork it does wonders.

            My dad had the same problem, he loved anything pickled, and so that left vinegar out...am I wrong?

            1. re: chef chicklet

              Chef, you can pickle vegetables without salt...just use vinegar. I made pickled carrots and cauliflower a few weeks ago with no salt.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                I'm not exactly sure what you're asking, but with pickling, the culprit is the salt. As far as I know, there's no health reason to avoid vinegar. Well, I guess if you have a problem with yeast, live vinegar would be a no-no.

                1. re: jlafler

                  I believe vinegar thins the blood ... at least that's what my mother used to tell me?? So I guess in some cases that would be a good thing ...

                  1. re: foiegras

                    In Oriental medicine, vinegar invigorates the blood, being used when there is stagnation of blood such as in trauma, menstrual disorders, etc. However, just with everything, too much vinegar can disrupt the balance causing other problems.

          2. it's challenging, but not impossible. some of my favorite tricks...

            - season with nutritional yeast. it has an excellent pungent umami flavor, less than 5 mg of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving. an ideal substitute for grated parmesan, perfect for topping pasta, popcorn, steamed veggies, etc.
            - soak sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms in boiling water, and reserve the soaking liquid to use as a cooking liquid and a flavorful base for sauces instead of high-sodium broths, soy sauce, etc.
            - high-quality vinegars - balsamic, sherry, champagne, herb-infused - and citrus juices pack a flavorful punch without salt.
            - use ingredients/seasonings more commonly found in ethnic cuisines - tamarind paste is one of my favorites for indian & north african preparations, it has a complex sweet & sour flavor that's perfect for curries; za'atar, ras-al-hanout, harissa, shichimi togarashi, tandoori spices, garam masala, ginger & lemongrass also come to mind.
            - when all else fails, sometimes a healthy does of chiles, liquid smoke or good old pepper & garlic will do the trick.
            - never underestimate the power of fresh herbs.
            - nothing beats agave syrup as a low-glycemic, chemical-free sugar replacement.

            good luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Yep, vinegar is your friend when you cannot have salt...lemon juice too! Fresh herbs and good spices also help.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                What exactly is liquid smoke? I was planning on looking for it as I have many recipes that call for it but I don't know what it is. thanks for your help.

              2. Try kelp granules. They are low in sodium and give a "salty" taste to food while adding umami. They're also a good source of minerals.

                1. I personally don't see a problem. I haven't used salt in anything for over 20 years. It is difficult to avod eating out.

                  First of all, buy the best quality produce possible. Ditto on meats. Let the flavor of the ingrediants used shine in what you are making shine.

                  Seriously, if you go without salt for a month, going back to it is awful.

                  I'm not sure what the diabetic restrictions would be. Chilies and other spices are great. I'm a big fan of chipotle. Lately I've been using up chile powder I don't like which just works with beans. I've thrown Hershey's dark cocoa powder into the beans also.

                  Garlic and onions add a lot of flavor. I don't know where beans fall into this but I've been playing with beans a lot lately and they are great for adding all sorts of spices.

                  Beans also are nice to top with a fried egg, the yolk breaking into the beans. Better than eggs with toast.

                  Also, nice to top with a house-made salsa fresca - chopped jalapeno, tomato, onion, cilantro with lime juice.

                  African wats made with lentils and the spices of that region are very satisfying. Look on the board. I've posted a lot about them. The butter/oil is not necessary, the taste is in the spices. I saute garlic and onions in a small just a bit of olive oil. Add cumn/tumeric to toast a bit. Throw in lentils, water and berber, bring to a boil and simmer until tender .. about 15 mintues.

                  Wine added to soups / stews adds depth.

                  For me, the list is way too long for any one post. It sounds more like an opportunity not a sentence of dreariness. Think of all the exciting food and taste combinations to be discover.

                  1. thanks for all the suggestions - lots of great reminders and new info!

                    this is for an older relative of mine, and I'm trying to visit occasionally and leave her frozen meals that fit the many dietary restrictions - otherwise she's getting frozen meals with a ton of sodium or other convenience foods (always a ton of sodium, corn syrup added ETC)
                    The lemon squeeze is a great idea, and the mushroom soaking liquid. I'm already going with braised garlic and wine as a big flavor booster - I don't want her to have depressing food! But she won't eat chiles . . .

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pitu

                      Trader Joe's has a line of salt free spice blends that are great on chickens for raosting, pastas etc.

                      1. re: pitu

                        How thoughtful of you. I was wondering about what the person would or wouldn't eat.

                        I'm going to repeat this because you talk about depressing food. Use good quality ingrediants to start and .... given the diabetic guidelines which would be more of the challenge to me ... cook what you usually do that freezes well ....just leave out the salt. In the beginning I went for all those salt substitutes and Mrs. Dash type thingies ... they taste awful and bring the dish down.

                        Salt doesn't give all the flavor people think it does ... unless they are using flavorless ingrediants to begin with.

                        I wont suggest recipes since you are the better cook than I ... but then almost anyone is. However I am the freezer queen since I hate cooking. Soups, casseroles Italian foods stews, mashed potatoes (sweet & regular) all freeze well. You can even freeze a nice split pea soup being creative about the herbs in it. Use olive oil or unsalted better for flavor.

                        Here is a nice site for some diabetic ideas which has things like
                        - Halbut Baked with Tomato Fennel Sauce for the Freezer
                        - Quick Low Carb Chicken Parmagiana
                        - Stuffed Red Pepper (stuffed peppers freeze well ... as do cabbage rolls)
                        - Pot Roast with Root Vegetables

                      2. There is a sea salt called "Solo" available in England, that has 60% less sodium than regular table salt. They're working on making the product available in this country, but seem to be slow at breaking through. No idea why. This is the greatest sodium reduction I've run across. When available, it might be handy to have on hand for those occasions when your diabetic can have a steak. But do check with his doctor. And "salt substitutes" can interact with medications, so check on those too.

                        As others have said, it's mostly a matter of palate training. Or "re-training." I don't have high blood pressure, but nevertheless I do cook almost salt free, then add a finishing salt --either some type of sea salt or kosher salt -- at the table. I may be fooling myself (but I tend to think not), but food seems to have a fuller taste when cooked without salt, then seasoned just before eating. And I use salt free butter only. Never found a salt free margarine I like! Well, never found a margarine I like, for that matter.

                        I also use my Microplane zester to add citrus flavors to foods at the last minute or even at table. Lemons, grapefruit, limes, oranges. With Valencia oranges in season now, I'm basking in that! Zest with a little freshly crushed culinary lavendar and freshly ground tellecherry black pepper is an interesting combination on vegetables and baked potatoes. Sometimes what sound like weird, off-the-wall combinations turn out to be great!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          I find exactly the opposite -- adding salt during the cooking process helps develop the flavors, whereas adding salt at the table just makes it taste salty.

                          1. re: jlafler

                            hmmmm... My guess is that if you do cook without salt and then add it at the table (have you ever tried it?), then either you're adding too much salt, or I'm also wondering if you're using regular table salt?

                            I find the problem with cooking with salt in multi-ingredient dishes (I do salt water to boil pasta) is that the salt builds up and you end up with a dish that doesn't taste all that salty, but that actually has a lot more salt than is required for a full taste. I'm also one of those "creative" cooks who rarely uses recipes, so I know what flavors I'm going after and don't worry about using more tomatoes or garlic or thyme than a recipe calls for. I suspect this frees me up from relying on salt to develop a "fullness of flavor." There's always some chance that I've just gotten used to doing things my way and don't notice any difference, but friends who (I presume) salt their food while cooking always rave about my cooking. Maybe they're just being polite. But most of them are awed because I make everything from scratch, including salad dressing. Well, I have gotten lazy the last few years and I do buy Hellmann's mayonnaise. '-)

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              If I add salt at the table, I usually add a tiny bit, taste, and titrate. I mainly use sea salt or Kosher salt. Most of the time I don't add salt at the table, though, because it doesn't seem necessary, and, as I said, it doesn't seem (to me, anyway) to do the same thing as salt added during the cooking process.

                              Several years ago, my husband was making lentil soup. The flavor wasn't quite right, and he asked my opinion. I tasted and said "needs salt." He was skeptical, because he didn't usually cook with salt and didn't want the soup to taste salty. But he added a little salt, and it did improve the soup without making it taste "salty."

                              I'm not sure what else to say, except that I'm a pretty experienced home cook, I use good ingredients, and like you I mostly cook by feel and make most things from scratch. I've never bought salad dressing, I make my own chicken stock, etc. We eat virtually no processed food (again, like you, mayo is one of the things I buy prepared, though here it's called Best Foods, not Hellman's). Luckily for me I've never had a blood pressure problem.

                              If you're happy cooking without salt, that's great. I find salt useful, but I certainly wouldn't push it on someone who prefers not to use it.

                        2. I don't even OWN a salt shaker (or any other object in which to contain salt - more specifically, I guess, I don't OWN salt).

                          My mother was a heavy salter (fries, etc.) and ti soured me to it entirely. I just skip it. I'm sure I could cook with it and it would be fine, but I've never really thought about it. I do use a lot in the way of herbs and spices, but have not touched a salt shaker in about 20 years. I don't think anything suffers from it.

                          (and I use low sodium soy and barely can get that down with sushi - anything else that has a lot of sodium I also have very low tolerance for)

                          1. Just wanted to recommend reading Laurie Colwin, who is wonderful with or without salt--but she stopped cooking with salt on her dr's advice.

                            1. There's certainly no reason to cook with salt if you don't like it and/or are used to cooking without it.

                              Still, salt has chemical properties that are useful in cooking. For example, it helps break down plant cell walls, which is useful if you want to wilt vegetables. Salt has been used as a preservative for millenia, which is why it's part of just about every traditional cuisine. So it's not true to say that all it does it make food taste salty. It's not a big deal if you don't want to use it, especially in a time and place when fresh foods are available all year round. It probably is better for your heart health to cut down salt. But please let's not be self-righteous about it.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: jlafler

                                I don't want to divert this into a argument about the usefullness of salt, but from the title in the topic to the words about boring cooking, people just shouldn't look at it that way. It is not. And while salt can have its place, it is just not necessary to eat deliciously. My veggies will wilt without salt. My pasta will cook. Both will taste delicious,

                                We now have other methods of food preservation so salt no longer needs to play that role in our society.

                                There are good salt-free tomatoes and sauces on the market and not only those that advertise that fact, so there is no need for year-round fresh foods. A nice sweet potato or regular potato can be had wherever one lives in any season.

                                Actually I find the canned items without salt are usually better. The flavor has to come from the item rather than being disguised by salt. Not always true, but often.

                                It is worse for people who want to avoid salt, especially in restaurants. The people who insist that the salt MUST be added during the cooking and not added at the discression of the dinner is distressing, especially those pro restaurant reviewers who add comments about not enough salt.

                                My only point is that when you get used to a salt-free world it is amazing how clean and pure food can be with the reliability on the salt to enhance the flavor. It is NOT a sentence. It is an opportunity. It is far from boring.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  just so we're clear . . . not starting a fight about salt.

                                  this is a big transition for a person who likes a little salt, is not feeling well, finds food to be one of the great remaining pleasures of life, but whose health is urgently best served by a highly restricted diet. There's a raft of vegetables with vitamins that counteract her bloodthinner, go figure.

                                  So much cooking rewards salt properly applied, that's my starting point. I enjoy salt and savory, as does my eater-in-question. It's a hard situation to enjoy re-education of tastes.
                                  Thanks again for everyone's suggestions.

                                  1. re: pitu

                                    good for you for being so diligent and careful in your concern and efforts to help her. as you mentioned many vegetables - particularly those high in Vitamin K - can be dangerous for someone taking anti-coagulant medications such as Coumadin.

                                    i'm sure you know about the basic ones, but just to be safe, here's a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the Vitamin K content of many veggies...

                                    highest levels:
                                    brussels sprouts
                                    white cabbage
                                    swiss chard
                                    collard greens
                                    bibb lettuce
                                    red leaf lettuce
                                    mustard greens
                                    green onion
                                    green pepper
                                    turnip greens

                                    moderate levels:
                                    iceberg lettuce

                                    low levels:
                                    green beans
                                    lima beans
                                    peeled cucumber
                                    white & yellow onions
                                    yellow squash
                                    acorn squash
                                    sweet potato
                                    tomato & tomato sauce

                                    she's lucky to have you.

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      I've been on Coumadin therapy for nearly a decade now for a heart arrhythmia (paroxysmal atrial fibrillation). Doesn't make me an expert, but there are some things I can speak to from experience.

                                      When Coumadin therapy is first initiated, the person's coagulation time is monitored closely, often on a weekly basis or even shorter time intervals, with lab testing and the dosage is adjusted to achieve the level the physician is after. No dietary adjustments are normally asked for, but if there are any, they automatically become part of the equation when doing the lab testing. Under "normal" circumstances, the level of Coumadin required will compensate for the person's regular diet, however much or little vitamin K or salt it involves. UNLESS directed to do so by a physician, one should not try to modify their normal diet simply because the changes will be reflected in the test results, but the reason the levels are such may not be understood. The more information your doctor has about what you're doing on your own, the better!

                                      While it''s quite reasonable to assume that a post heart surgery patient may be on Coumadin or Plavix, I also think it could prove dangerous to take any dietary restrictions into one's own hands without a doctor's or dietition's supervision based on the specific patient's current condition and history.

                                      This is in no way intended to contradict anything that goodhealthgourmet has shared, but just in case someone might reasonably think, "Oh! I think I'll cut back on vitamin K!" To me it's pretty obvious that ghg has offered the information in a spirit of sharing, and not as medical advice.

                                      After having been on Coumadin as many years as I have, and with the loooong history of being stable at my dosage level, we have not had to adjust my Coumadin level in years. I do LOVE spinach! And when I want some spinach, I eat some spinach. Just not for several meals running, or even for several days in a row. But once a week is fine. I eat salads on a regular basis. And on that rare occasion (it's only happened once) when I accidentally took a double dose, I had a blast stuffing my face with spinach. Full spanikopita ahead...! With my doctor's knowledge and approval, of course. And he did require that I bake some for him too. '-)

                                      But the key is to always always always work closely with your physician. Always!

                                    2. re: pitu

                                      Being diabetic myself, I have a lot of sympathy for your relative. It's hard not to feel like you're under a sentence when dietary restrictions are imposed due to a health problem. I remember, about a year after I was diagnosed, putting together a plateful of food at a potluck, looking at it, and wondering whether I would ever be able to look at a plate of food and see just... a plate of food. It took a while, but it's usually true for me now. You can help her stick with the program by making food that she can enjoy within the limits of what she can have. Good luck!

                                    3. re: rworange

                                      I have to disagree somewhat. I used to be in the "no salt added" camp, and I've actually gone back to using more salt. As previously said, salt does more than just make food salty. Much of cooking and taste is about chemical reactions -- adding salt changes the chemical reactions in myriad ways that affect both the taste and the texture.

                                      And I disagree that "no salt added" means it's a higher-quality product. It just means they didn't add salt to whatever they were putting in the package/can. As for preservatives, many of them contain sodium (sodium benzoate is a common one), so if you're avoiding sodium, they're not any better.

                                      If you really want to cut down on sodium, eat less processed food -- the vast majority of the excess sodium in the American diet comes from hidden sodium in processed foods (just another reason not to eat them).

                                      Finally, I have a question: how do people know they have too much sodium? Is there a test? What are the symptoms? Or do people just assume that sodium is bad for *everyone* because *some* people have specific health conditions that sodium is contraindicated for?

                                  2. You can also use Potassium Chloride (salt substitute) or "Lite Salt" (half sodium chloride, half potassium chloride). Both are found on the same aisle as regular salt. The potassium will give food a little bit of a bitter flavor, compared to regular salt, esp if you add too much. But it may be something to experiment with a bit, since this is a matter of health, and not so much ideal flavor.

                                    1. So sorry to hear about your friend and the salt diet issue. I have been doing the South Beach diet for a little over 2 weeks. It is an EXCELLENT diet for diabetics as it takes into account the foods low on the glycemic index and actually lists them inside the book. My blood sugar has improved dramatically in the last 2 1/2 weeks. There are great recipes available in the basic diet book and others. While this may not solve your salt issue, it can give you some new recipes to try. Try to cut down on red meat, increase fish & shellfish and not only will the blood sugar improve but you will lose a few pounds too. Others have mentioned Mrs Dash and salt substitutes, hope these will work. Good Luck!