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Is Good Tasting Low-Sodium Cooking an Oxymoron? Discuss.

seriously. a very dear friend of mine is chronically ill and was told she needs to drastically limit her intake of sodium (and also iodine, which means no sea food, and a limit on eggs). she is a hardcore food lover, and has always been into cooking. but now, it is hard for her to imagine cooking anything that has flavor without adding salt. is it possible? does anyone have any recipes or tips they could share? she is a food adventurer and has no problem trying just about anything.... thanks in advance!

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  1. Try using lemon juice and things like balsamic vinegar - eg Greek friend squeezes lemon over steak to flavour, never salt. Slow cooked and caramelized dishes are tasty not necessarily salty. Freshly roasted and ground spices are so flavorful salt may not be missed. Celery has a natural salty flavour. Realigning your palette will come and you don't miss it as much as you think you will in day to day foods. It's olives, anchovies, bacon and the like that are hard!! But lemon juice is the bomb!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jobeth_b

      Also try other sorts of vinegars. Even white. I also like the vinegar with peppers that you shake. There are no salt - salt subs out there. Your friend should consult the doc to see if they are acceptable. Some have potassium and that is also a no-no. I also like Mrs. Dash. Be careful of hidden sodium.

      And in addition to lemon juice, try adding zest. I zest my lemons and keep it dried in a jar then reconstitute it in the food. I have also noticed that if you put in a little bit of cayenne to food, you will need less salt. I think it fools the tastebuds.

    2. In addition to the celery mentioned above, chives also have a naturally 'salty' taste. And I second the spices. Are there other restrictions beyond the sodium/iodine issue?

      2 Replies
      1. re: ultimatepotato

        well, it's a heart problem so too much saturated fat's not a good idea either...but salt is the biggest issue.

        1. re: brooklynsabra

          I've said this before and I'll say it again: salt (too much of it mostly) masks the true flavors of foods, especially vegetables. Once you strip away that salty taste, you begin to taste the real food. This happens but it takes some time. jobeth's lemon juice is a good flavor enhancer for sure, lime juice too! Fresh herbs do wonders and spices too. Mrs. Dash makes some decent shake-on seasonings and they also have a website with rated recipes. Mayo Clinic also offers some low sodium recipes as I recall. (My son was pretty sick in Dec. 07/Jan 08 and I was cooking low sodium for him and learned a lot. He IS doing better now and totally avoids adding any salt to his foods.) Hope your friend LISTENS to the doctor's advice--many of us need to ditch the processed foods and eat more fresh veggies and fruits.

      2. I am sometimes amazed how it takes something like a medical reason to reduce sodium intake to inspire people to learn the versatility of herbs and spices. Once your friend learns how to properly use herbs and spices in combination she will eventually learn that sodium (as in simple salt or other forms) is fairly easy to omit from may very good dishes. I'd suggest she first try it with chicken recipes using simple herb combinations and, if she's up to it, various curry mixes that she can create herself.

        1. Eating food without salt is itself a culinary adventure. Last summer I ate at a Spanish restaurant in Buenos Aires. They served a dish of just thinly sliced eggplant and olive oil--no salt. I thought it was bland at first. But I still remember it after all this time. It was the purest expression of eggplant I've ever had.

          My suggestion would be to start with simpler foods like fruits and vegetables. Taste everything again for the first time--pure and simple.

          1. If she's been a salt fiend up until now, it will take a while for her tastebuds to adjust...have her check with her doctor to see if it might be acceptable to wean herself off of the mountains of salt, as that will make it easier.

            But yes...herbs, spices, oils, vinegars...they all will quickly become near and dear to her hopefully-healthier heart.

            (slow cooking is another way to build up enormous flavors with little to no salt, too)

            1. A few years back, one of my son's high school friends decided to give up salt for Lent. He was one of those types who salt everything, even pizza, before tasting it - salting to the point of crunchiness.
              After a month with no salt, he told my son that he had had no idea that foods had all those different flavors. I think he was pleasantly surprised.

              I've never been a salt lover, and find that the flavors of the foods themselves, along with herbs and spices and other condiments are plenty interesting to me.

              1. I've been doing sodium restricted cooking for the past 10 or so years. I've tested and tried several combination blends ie. Mrs. Dash type products, from several major spice distributors. Trust me here.... go buy a box of Bell's poultry seasoning. I've found it to be the best. It gives a great flavor to almost anything. A little goes a long way and it's half the price of any others on the market. You can also make your own blends which I do also. Find the ones that you like and make up a supply to have on hand. Your friend will adjust to the limit in sodium. Watch the labels on everything, sodium is hidden in places you may never expect. Another key is to develop fresh herbs into favorite recipes. It's mainly trial and error, but eventually one can live without salt. Best of luck.

                1 Reply
                1. re: othervoice

                  I've never heard of Bell's nor have I ever seen it down here in FL but am going to try making my own, sounds very good, thanks for posting!

                2. as a major salt fiend myself, i give condolences. however, i suggest focusing on roundness of flavors, and start with hearty, robust bases. mirepoix goes a long way to impart robustness. garlic and onions, especially caramelized, along with mushrooms, especially wild, give depth as well. the mushrooms have that savory umami thing going too. i agree as well with the use of herbs (especially fresh) and spices. also, i love to roast many herbs, like cilantro, as they become wonderfully sweet and take on a new flavor (particularly for cilantro, since i don't like the stuff raw). finally, if she likes spicy, that's a good road to take where salt is definitely not the main dimension.

                  i'm sure she'll make it through, though the path may be a tough one! good luck to her.

                  ETA: oh and also agree with lemon! i can't have soy sauce, so i often use lemon in sushi bars... throw stones if you like, but it's works for me!

                  1. get her salt-limit expressed in tsps. make one nice meal a day, and for the others, eat bread and peanut butter, or rice, or something else that's plain, hearty and good.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: Chowrin

                      the recommended maximum sodium intake for a healthy adult who's NOT on a restricted diet is 2400mg of sodium...you get that from 6 grams or approximately 1 teaspoon of table salt. but that's supposed to be your TOTAL intake, including the naturally occurring sodium on foods and whatever is added to packaged or prepared foods. so the person in question really doesn't have the option of adding ANY salt when preparing their food.

                      and standard bread often carries a pretty hefty sodium count so people on low-sodium diets usually need to stick with no-salt-added or low-sodium bread.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Thanks for that math. I've never looked it up. The majority of the 'salting' I do is from the salt jar by the stove. I can pick up tiny amounts of kosher salt to put on the top of something so I do get little bursts of salt flavor. My parents were indiscriminate salters and when I met Bob he was also. I couldn't do anything about them but he's switched and I've just never used much. Now that I prepare so many things from scratch, that's been a huge savings.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          anytime, c. you know me, i can recite things like this in my sleep :) it's great that you've managed to wean Bob off the excess salt - i've never understood the pleasure of consuming over-salted food. all i can taste is the salt! then again, there are many people who don't understand why i enjoy extremely spicy food...different strokes, as they say.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Bob's late mother would say, regarding our eating spicy food and waving our hands across our mouth to express the spiciness, "why do you like that?" I never had an adequate answer. BECAUSE was the best I could come up with. Right now we're visiting our 86 y.o. friend and she's already tasted the THREE spicy salsas I brought and she's happy, happy :) Different strokes indeed.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              "why do you like that?"
                              endorphins ;)

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I truly never thought about that :) We just fed our friend TWO tacos of carnitas, black beans, cotija and three salsas. She and we are very happy :)

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  i wish you could send some over here - i've been craving pork carnitas lately! gotta get on that. i'm glad to hear you're all enjoying yourselves...and yes, the endorphin response to spicy food is scientific fact, so if your late MIL is looking down on you and observing this conversation, you now have a better explanation for her than "because" ;)

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    Er, she might be looking UP at us :) But I really never thought about the endorphin part of it. Our darling friend, Pat, toddled off to bed with good food thoughts :)

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      LOL! i was trying to be diplomatic since i didn't know what your relationship was like with her :) BTW, Pat's extremely lucky to have friends like you & Bob.

                    2. I don't know if this applies in this particular case, but throwing it out there:


                      "The reality is that reducing sodium has many effects, some good like reducing average blood pressure, and others bad," said Dr. Michael H. Alderman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. For instance, he said, reducing sodium increases insulin resistance, which is the main problem in diabetes. It also ups the production of certain other hormones that have been linked to heart disease. "The impact of reducing sodium must be the sum total of all these physiological effects."

                      1. Depending on how restrictive she is supposed to be, people can eliminate most sodium from their diets by eliminating all packaged foods. If your friend cooks with raw ingredients, she can lightly salt (using non iodized salt like kosher or sea salt) and still have a "low sodium" diet.

                        1. Yes, it is possible. I think salt can enhance the food favor, but more than often people actually overwhelm the food's natural favor with salt. They may not know it, but they are. In my opinion, people who rely on salt to make their foods taste good, aren't exactly using all the skills they can.

                          Most people can adapt to milder foods in a matter for weeks. The first week may be a bit more difficult, but we can all adapt. I am speaking from experience. There was a time that I eliminated any added salt from my diet due to what I preceived as a cadio/vascular (heart and blood vessel) problem. It wasn't anything difficult. I just did it on day one. There are plenty other things one can do with his/her foods than adding more salt.

                          One can also use spices to make up the lower salt content. Any herb and spices can bring in new favors, like garlic, ginger, cummin, fennel, anise, red pepper powder....etc. This is one area I really like Indian cuisine. A lot of spices, not much salt - incredibly tasteful.

                          Finally, there is always the "Potassium chloride" salt substitution. In other words, KCl instead of NaCl. I have no idea if it tastes any good. I heard it is not that great, but othes say it is fine:


                          1. What I did in the same situation with my in-laws was send them a gift-box of Penzey's salt-free spice mixtures and a gift certificate to the same store. I love my mother-in-law, but there are spice boxes at her house that are older than I am, and while those mixes have helped, she is still just sort of taste-blind about understanding what spices go where. She's always suspicious about my own saucing and finds it hard to fathom that yes, that delicious dish does not have any added salt. I grew up cooking without adding salt (except for baking, where chemical reactions may need it) thanks to a dad whose palate is very sensitive to it. We salted at the table, if at all, and adding salt without tasting your food first was an unpardonable offense.

                            As others have said, citrus juices brighten flavors without adding salt. So will cilantro, if your friend isn't in the "tastes like soap/metal" camp when it comes to that love it/hate it herb. Spices like smoked paprika may also be a big hit with your friend.

                            1. I've been on a true low sodium diet for about 10 years, and I love food too. It is a tough transition to a salt-free world but once your taste buds adjust (and they do) very salty foods taste bad. In my cooking I've learned a few tricks.
                              1) Read labels carefully - it is amazing the amount of sodium most processed foods contain. There are brands that tend to be lower, including many organics. For example, some canned tomatoes have a lot of sodium, but other brands have nearly none. Who knew?
                              2) Salt can be replaced in many dishes with some sort of acid. Lemon juice, vinegars (many varieties), tomato paste, whatever... the acid "brightens" the flavor. And as others have said, spices help a lot too.
                              3) There are other foods to which I add fake salt (i.e., potassium chloride -- but have your friend check with her doctor to make sure that potassium chloride is okay to use). I found a brand called "No Salt" made by French's Foods which tastes pretty good and I use that when needed. Or sometimes I add no salt added ("NSA") bullion powder to dishes that need help - I know, not exactly gourmet, but it does help the flavor.
                              4) A little bit of grated parmesan cheese (1 tbsp <100 mg sodium) added at the end goes long way to add a hint of saltiness without a lot of sodium.
                              5) Alvarado Street Bakery makes a very respectable NSA whole wheat bread, and Trader Joe's has some good NSA products. Also try organic stores like Whole Foods if you have that near you. There are brands of sodium free baking powder too that you can find in organic markets.
                              6) If you can't find low sodium foods near you, there are markets on line:
                              http://www.heartwisefood.com/ and http://healthyheartmarket.com/ are worth a look.
                              7) Don't bother with low-sodium cookbooks. Just adapt your favorite recipes.

                              Hope this helps.

                              1. No. I have made most meals low or no salt for years. For medical reasons. Reason being, the cardiology lectures in medical school frightened the hell out of my husband.

                                One thing that makes it hard it how few convenience products come in salt-free varieties. You can now get excellent quality canned (boxed) salt free tomatoes (Romi brand), salt-free cottage cheese (Friendship), Whole Foods also carries Eden organic canned salt-free beans. Frankly, very little else that you can buy is salt-free. You want bread? bake it yourself or buy a frozen brand called Ezekiel at Whole Foods.

                                Even fish has become a problem. It used to be fish was fish. Almost all fish now is dipped in a mild brine.

                                Most low-sodium products are simply lying, they have a tad less sodium, but for someone who needs a salt-freee product, virtually all commercial "low sodium" products contain astronomical amounts of salt. We even put salt into cakes and cookies.

                                So people who try ot follow the standard medical advice ot eat no or low salt diets have to make almost everything themselves.

                                That said, you can make fabulous meals without using salt. Almost nothing from east or south east Asian, of course. there is no substitute for soy sauce.

                                But most dishes form India, Mexico and North Africa are delicious if you simply leave out the salt.

                                And herbs are your friend. Don't be shy. Try, for example, leaving the salt out of some of your favorite rice dishes and adding huge amounts of chopped, fresh parsley stirred in. I mean huge, like 2 or 3 big bunches of parsley per cup of uncooked rice.

                                Or make a marinara sauce with fresh basil and serve it with pasta and salt-free cottage cheese.

                                Delicious salt-free cooking can be done, but it takes a lot of chopping ans sauteeing.

                                Speaking of which, you can make absolutely wonderful salt free soups from a favorite vegetable and an immersion blender if you take the trouble to brown all the onions in a superiour olive oil.


                                1. Sea salt DOES NOT cause high blood pressure whereas regular refined salt does. All the scientific studies that have been done showing that salt "causes" high blood pressure where done on people who took regular, refined salt. Even with natural sea salt, there are differences in quality, Where the salt comes from and how it is processed matters. Obviously, it is best to get salt from very clean waters, far from civilization and pollutants. Ancient sea salt such as RealSalt is best.

                                  Finally, there a few more important things to note about consuming salt:

                                  1. Salt must always be cooked together with food, or combined with food through processes such as pickling and salt fermentation – in products like miso, shoyu, salted pickles, etc.
                                  2. When you cook with salt, add salt during cooking, not after. Make sure the salt is cooked with food for at least 10 minutes.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: terlin

                                    "All the scientific studies that have been done showing that salt "causes" high blood pressure where done on people who took regular, refined salt"

                                    Well, refined salt is a lot more pure than sea salt. The whole point is that sea salt has other impurities in it. When conducting an experiment, the scientists want to eliminate as many variables as possible, so that the data are easier to interpret. Thus, refined salt is chosen over sea salt. That does not mean only refined salt causes hypertension.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      It is these so-called "impurities" that make ancient sea salt healthy. These other minerals are needed and beneficial.

                                    1. Lemon juice improves just about everything. Dried dill is good on green vegetables. Sweet-and-sour (as in chicken, pork etc) works. Dishes that you wouldn't salt anyway work (fresh fruit salad, baked sweet potato busted open with brown sugar and butter, sweet potato with pineapple). And make the most of custards, ice creams, fruit pies (things you don't salt). But beware of baking powder and baking soda, which can add huge amounts of sodiium---yeast-raised waffles are a good replacement for baking-powder waffles. If you can find low sodium cheddar cheese, make a spread by grinding it up in the Cuisinart with fresh garlic then bind it with a little beer---no sodium is added but the flavor is pretty good. There is a low-sodium baking powder---it is sold at WholeFoods and health food stores. You can make pickled beets without salt using just vinegar, sugar, and mixed pickling spice. I cooked low-sodium for my husband for 23 years---encourage your friend---it's possible.

                                      1. I was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease in 2004 and put on a strict salt free diet. It was a very difficult transition for me. Like your friend, I am a foodie and food adventurer, and after the diagnosis it felt like life was over. But I decided to take control of my health and in the ensuing years I've taught myself everything imaginable when it comes to salt free/low sodium cooking. I've pretty much taken it on as a life's mission (hah!) and in 2007 I launched a free/indie website called The Daily Dish -- completely devoted to salt free cooking. Four years later.. and still going strong. The Daily Dish has over 600 (and counting) low-so/salt free recipes -- all FREE to the public. I also try to raise awareness of tasty salt free/no-salt-added/low-so products I find.

                                        This diet is a challenge. I am in my 30s, married and have 2 kids. My family are my test subjects! If they won't eat something I know not to put it out there for the public. There's something about a kid saying "yea" or "nay" that speaks volumes. I try to make things as easy and straightforward as possible, as well as (of course) healthy and most important -- DELICIOUS! I wish your friend all the best on her road to health. Perhaps my site (www.thedailydish.us) will be helpful.

                                        PS: Tons of great tips from everyone here. Salt free dieters are some of the most creative cooks around.