By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
“I don’t use too much salt. I never salt my food at the table…” Ever heard one of those statements? Ever made those statements? Does “salt guilt” leave you confused and defensive about your sodium intake? What if I reminded you salt is necessary for life? It’s true. In fact, salt is critical for the overall maintenance of our bodies. Together with potassium, salt helps our nerves function properly allowing our muscles to contract and contributes to fluid and electrolyte balance. Throughout history salt has played an important role in how and what we eat. It has been used as a seasoning, preservative, and even traded in commerce.
What’s the problem? Unfortunately, along with dietary fat and sugar, Americans toss moderation to the wind when it comes to their consumption of sodium. The average American consumes dangerous amounts of sodium – about 3,400 milligrams a day – more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. Too much sodium in the body can cause higher risk for high blood pressure, which leads to heart disease and stroke.
How did this happen? Today’s highly processed food supply is in large part to blame. More than 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from snack foods, soups, condiments, canned foods, prepared mixes and restaurant foods. Even without ever picking up a salt shaker to add salt at the table, we can exceed safe levels of sodium and put ourselves at risk of serious health problems.
Want to know the salt solution? Many factors along with sodium affect the risk of cardiovascular disease such as obesity, inactivity, and smoking. Losing weight, daily exercise, and following the DASH diet, are lifestyle changes that can help protect against heart disease and improve overall health. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is an eating plan which boosts the amount of low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables you eat while also lowering salt intake. Research confirms the DASH diet, which includes three servings of low-fat dairy and 8 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables each day, can lower blood pressure as much as some medications. In fact, The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that DASH eating can lower systolic blood pressure as much as 8 to 14 points!
The DASH diet is not only a great choice for people with high blood pressure, it has been proven effective for safe weight loss. For the third straight year, U.S News & World Report ranked the DASH eating plan the number one diet. Smaller portions along with regular meals and healthy snacks throughout the day promote weight loss while meeting nutrition needs. Best of all, it is an eating plan that is flexible, can be used by the whole family, and followed for a lifetime.
Never-say-never. Let’s face it-reducing high sodium intake from processed, fast, and junk foods makes sense. As a registered dietitian, I know that eating foods rich in minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that protect the heart, leaves room for some salt on the table. For those trying to incorporate more cooked vegetables into their diet, the right salt in moderation can help them be more successful by boosting flavor.
Which salt is best?
Table Salt: Refined salt and sodium chloride mined from underground salt deposits and then processed to give it a fine texture. This makes it easier to mix and use in recipes than other varieties. Most table salts contain additives such as anticaking agents and iodine, another essential nutrient.
Sea Salt: Sea salt is obtained through the evaporation of seawater. Minimal processing helps retain trace levels of minerals and other nutrients. It’s coarser with a crunchy texture and stronger flavor. Most importantly, sea salt has as much sodium as table salt. Choosing sea salt over table salt does not reduce overall sodium intake.
Kosher Salt: Kosher salt can originate from either the sea or underground and is named for its use in the preparation of meat according to Jewish dietary guidelines. Kosher salt dissolves fast and its flavor disperses quickly making it a good all-purpose salt. Beware, not all Kosher salt is certified Kosher.
Seasoned Salt: Table or sea salts that have be seasoned with a variety of different flavorings, including lemon, herbs and more. These products are popular to add flavor to seafood, meats, eggs, or vegetables. Often brands have salt free versions to add the flavor without the sodium.
Salt Substitute: Sodium-free herb and spice blends, as well as potassium-based salts, provide consumers options. Important to note, too much potassium can be harmful for people with certain medical conditions. Ask your doctor before trying potassium-based salt substitutes.
Moderation is key when it comes to the salt shaker no matter what variety you choose, but salt can be a part of healthy eating. You don’t need to halt the salt, but exercise a little discipline. Enjoy natural foods prepared at home, use herbs and spices for seasonings and taste your foods before reaching for the salt -now that’s something your heart and taste buds can be happy about.
Oven Fried Chicken
Great news – crunchy, flavorful fried chicken can be healthy with this oven-fried chicken recipe. We marinate skinless chicken in buttermilk to keep it juicy. A light coating of flour, sesame seeds and spices, misted with olive oil, forms an appealing crust during baking. And with only 7 grams of fat per serving in this oven-fried chicken recipe – rather than the 20 in typical fried chicken – that is good news.
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk (see Cook’s Tip)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 1/2-3 pounds whole chicken legs, skin removed, trimmed and cut into thighs and drumsticks
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil cooking spray
Cook’s Tip: No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make “sour milk”: mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.
• Whisk buttermilk, mustard, garlic and hot sauce in a shallow glass dish until well blended. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.
• Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.
• Whisk flour, sesame seeds, paprika, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place the flour mixture in a paper bag or large sealable plastic bag. Shaking off excess marinade, place one or two pieces of chicken at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken on the prepared rack. (Discard any leftover flour mixture and marinade.) Spray the chicken pieces with cooking spray.
• Bake the chicken until golden brown and no longer pink in the center, 40 to 50 minutes. Recipe from www.heart.org
Check out The DASH Diet for Hypertension by Thomas J. Moore and Mark Jenkins. In a 2011 ranking published in U.S. News & World Report, the DASH Diet was rated #1 by a panel of medical experts including specialists in diabetes and heart disease – “the best overall diet and the best diet for diabetes!”