If you’re someone who is always craving salty food, you aren’t alone. In fact, Health Canada estimates that 58 per cent of adult Canadians are regularly consuming too much sodium in their diets. Standard sodium recommendations for adults are between 1500 mg and up to 2300 mg per day, a number that’s fairly easy to maintain if every single meal you eat is homemade and portion controlled (a feat which is not so easy to achieve, especially when you’re living an active and busy life.) The main culprits when it comes to high-sodium foods include baked goods, processed meats, prepared snack foods, breakfast cereals, condiments, and salad dressings. Studies have shown that a diet regularly including high-sodium food items could eventually lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, issues with water retention, and an increased risk of certain cancers.
Thankfully, there are many ways to add flavour to your food that don’t involve a salt shaker. Look for labels that say “sodium free,” “unsalted”, and “low in sodium” when grocery shopping and be wary of labels that say “no added salt” as the product could still have a high sodium content without the addition of salt. Preparing food from scratch? Try these suggestions for lower sodium or sodium-free cooking and baking.
Lower salt alternatives
Dulse is a type of seaweed that can be dehydrated and ground into a powder or larger flakes. Its flavour is most often compared to bacon and it has a strong umami taste that’s perfect for sprinkling on eggs, salads and directly subbing out for salt when cooking. Dulse is a good source of calcium, iron protein, and potassium although it is a natural source of sodium, so keep serving sizes small.
Nutritional yeast, or “nooch” as it’s known by its many fans, is made from dehydrated inactive yeast in powdered or flaked form. Known for its vegan-friendly “cheesy” flavour, nutritional yeast is delicious added to a bowl of unsalted popcorn, as a breading for poultry or tofu or added to plant-based versions of melted “cheese” sauce. Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B and does contain a very small amount of naturally occurring sodium.
With such a large variety of vinegars available at the grocery store, it’s easy to discover a new favourite. Sherry, balsamic, red wine, malt, champagne, and white wine vinegar are just a few examples of vinegars to give your cooking a boost. Add vinegar to salads, cooked eggs, tomato sauce, and soups in place of salt, you’ll be amazed at the depth of flavour they add without the need for sodium.
Fresh or dried chilies are a fantastic way to achieve the heat level that hot sauce can achieve (but without all the added salt.) Experiment with different types of fresh chilies to find the best heat levels, if the selection is limited at your local grocery store, you can try growing them outdoors (or indoors during the winter) in small pots. Dried chilies add a depth of flavour that is both warming and slightly sweet from the drying process and can be purchased whole or ground-up.
Raw ginger has a pleasantly sweet heat that adds big flavour to any recipe, no sodium required. Grate fresh ginger directly into salad dressings, marinades, and peanut dipping sauce or slice into thin matchsticks for rice paper spring rolls, stir-fries and coconut milk-based curry sauces.
Citrus juice and zest can be used in a wide variety of recipes from cuisines all over the world. Use lime or grapefruit juice for ceviche or green salads with grilled shrimp and orange and lemon zest can be rubbed directly onto poultry or rubbed under the skin with olive oil. Almost any kind of citrus juice can form the base of a flavourful salad dressing or marinade, especially when fresh or dried herbs, Dijon mustard and a good quality olive oil are added.