7 Ways to Eat Less Salt and Enjoy Your Food More

Sunday Jan 26 | BY |
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Eat Less Salt

I’m a recovering salt addict. I admit it.

Growing up, I never had very strong cravings for sugar. I’d always choose a salty dish over a chocolate cake. My cravings were for salt.

When I went raw, I missed salt terribly. I was okay eating fruit, because it tasted great without salt, but salads were another story. Throughout the years, I’ve sometimes eaten a fairly low-sodium diet, and sometimes just completely went off track and consumed as much salt as I desired.

I knew that taste buds could be trained. But, I resisted. I liked salty foods. I thought that as long as it was healthy, I could probably get away with using some salt.

Now, I’m not saying that going 100% salt-free is absolutely necessary for health. There’s no reason to believe that adding a bit of salt to a healthy, plant-based diet will lead to major, negative consequences.

As far as the body is concerned, it doesn’t matter where your sodium comes from. If you get too much of it, it can be a problem. In sensitive individuals (and that’s most people), eating too much sodium raises blood pressure, which in turn leads to a host of other health problems.

When you eat more sodium than your body needs, the body dilutes the excess sodium by eliminating it through the urine, but also retaining water. That’s why the more sodium we eat, the more “puffed up” appearance we have. Excess sodium must be eliminated by the kidneys, which burdens them when there’s too much of it. This can lead to kidney stones. In the process, other minerals, like calcium, are drawn out of the body.

Even though it’s clear that too much sodium is bad for health, I also think that this issue has been overemphasized by health organizations around the world and the media. The standard advice we get from dietitians is to eat less salt and eat a “balanced diet.” Public policies have often sought to ban salt in food (think of the attempted ban on salt in New York City).

In an interesting article, Dr. John McDougall calls salt the “Scapegoat of the Western Diet.”

He writes:

“Sodium restriction is today the most widely publicized non-medication recommendation for heart disease and stroke prevention. Unfortunately, this advice has proven ineffective. (…) Even if less salt meant better health, people’s eating habits are near impossible to change, simply because so few of us are able to successfully make the transition to what are considered to be unpalatable foods. Our biological craving for salt has made this an unachievable goal. Focusing on an impossible dream—‘eat low salt’—does, however, assure no consequential health changes will occur in our society—and that means consumers continue their same buying habits, food companies remain highly profitable, people remain sick, and drug companies enjoy record profits. In contrast, a meaningful message, like ‘stop eating meat and cheese, and instead focus your diet on rice and potatoes,’ would revolutionize the world—but those now in control of governments and ‘health’ organizations representing profitable businesses don’t want to see that day come anytime soon. The status quo will indeed continue until the truth about salt becomes accepted.”

Dr. McDougall recommends cooking without salt, and only adding salt to the surface of foods. He allows for half a teaspoon per day. This adds 1100 mg of sodium to the diet. A plant-based diet contains around 500 mg of sodium, contained naturally in vegetables and other foods, so his diet would contain around 1600 mg of sodium, well below the maximum levels recommended by most health organizations around the world.

Except for extreme cases, like people living on strict fruitarian diets and exercising a lot, it’s clear that most people would benefit from eating LESS rather than more salt.

The generally accepted maximum sodium intake is set at around 2000 mg per day, per person. Others recommend no more than 1500 mg, and sometimes less than 1000 mg.

Since you’ll naturally get close to 500 mg in whole foods, without adding any salt to your diet, adding a small amount of salt to the surface of food could be allowed and still keep you well under the recommended maximums. Here are a few tips from a former salt addict:

1) Fast. It takes several weeks or months for taste buds to adapt to a low-salt diet. However, this process can be sped up with a short water fast. A three-day water fast will recalibrate your taste buds and enable you to enjoy natural foods without salt. Even just 24 hours does the job. A juice fast is an alternative. (Note: please consult with your doctor before attempting a water fast.)

2) Use lemon. The taste receptors for salt are located close to the taste receptors for acidity on the tongue. So, you can “fool” your body into thinking a food is saltier than it is by adding lemon or another acid to it. Lemon juice is healthy and can be added to almost any food. I really enjoy a squeezed wedge of lemon on steamed vegetables, like broccoli, instead of salt.

3) Avoid soups. Any food served at a restaurant will surely contain way too much salt, but soups are probably the worst offenders. No matter what you decide to eat at a restaurant, always avoid soups. Always ask for dressings or sauces on the side, and order the simplest items on the menu.

4) Use hot sauce and salt-free seasonings. Tabasco sauce is the friend of anyone attempting to reduce salt consumption. Yes, it does contain sodium, but in very low amounts. One teaspoon of Tabasco sauce only contains 35 mg of sodium, and a few drops is generally enough to add a lot of taste! There’s a whole world of salt-free seasonings available on the market. You can also make your own by dehydrating various vegetables and grinding them in a coffee grinder. I like the combination of papaya, tomatoes, and celery.

5) Try my salad dressing. I eat a big salad every day, and as a dressing I add a good-quality balsamic vinegar, some nutritional yeast, and sometimes one tablespoon of tahini or half an avocado. I also add some fruit to the salad, like half an apple, diced. I find this “dressing” to be extremely tasty and satisfying.

6) Persist. It takes a while for taste buds to adapt to eating no added salt (or less salt). But if you persist, you’ll eventually prefer the taste of natural foods without salt. It does happen! (It takes a couple of months, usually.)

7) Don’t cook with salt. Never add salt during the cooking process (an exception could be made with low-sodium vegetable broth). If you really want salt, add a bit to the surface of food, after cooking. Now, I generally avoid adding salt to food, but I make an exception for condiments. For example, I might use a bit of salsa (which contains sodium) along with a baked potato. This strategy adds a minimal amount of sodium to the food, keeping you well under target.

Enjoy your food! If you eat natural foods and a LOT of raw fruits and vegetables, then eating less salt is easy. If you crave salt, only add it to the surface of food, but make sure to try all the other alternatives as well.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

16 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Your salad dressing is also the dressing that I use every day on my salad, most times, however, omitting the tahini or avocado. Simply adding balsamic vinegar and nutritional yeast make for the perfect combination in my mind. Also, I cut up into very small pieces some raw, organic sundried tomatoes and they add a bit of salty punch as well. When I have these things every day, I do not crave salt!

  2. fredrick says:

    What About the healthy benfits of sea salt .i agree with you about salt we buy from retail outlets etc all the good is burnt out then they add aluminium to make it flow easily the smallest amount of this stuff posing as salt is dangerous to say the least.

  3. John says:

    This advice is ridiculous. Salt is essential to health. Salt has caused wars and uprisings throughout history, why? because humans, like other animals, know how important salt is to health. Advice like this is is quite frankly stupid.
    the message should be don’t eat processed foods. Restrict salt and most people will struggle to produce enough stomach acid which will lead to any number of diseases.

    In the words of the legendary Dr Joel Wallach, ” the first thing a good farmer does is put a salt/mineral block in a field for his cows. No one tells a cow she is restricted to a lick a day. Use salt, salt your food to taste. I refuse my patients are dummer than a cow!

    • I did not say “cut out salt completely.” However, many populations and tribes throughout the world have done perfectly well without salt. The body requires sodium to function, not “salt.”

  4. Liz says:

    Nice article Fred, and you overlooked the best way of all – eat far more herbs!! I find that sprinkling fresh herbs over my savoury dishes lessens the desire for salt significantly.

    Liz

  5. Johnnie says:

    Thank you Frederick. I’m going to try your dressing. I must admit, I love salt!!

  6. Arhat says:

    The salt you are referring to, certainly is “abominable”.
    I use Himalaya-salt or Dead-Sea-Salt, or some salt I prepare from a type of gross salt for Livestock.
    These salts contain about 70 components which our body and our metabolism do need , but have been eliminated in the common “table salt”.

  7. Zyxomma says:

    I’ve never craved salty foods, prepare most of my meals at home, and only add salt to the surface. I never cook with it. Health and peace.

  8. Re: Eat Less Salt. A very strict distinction needs to be made about what sort of salt is being discussed. The Western diet is heavily loaded with Sodium Salt, principally Sodium Chloride. Manufactured foodstuffs are even more heavily loaded or ‘contaminated’ with Sodium Chloride.

    Raw foods tend to be high in Potassium salt which diminishes rapidly the move processing foodstuffs undergo. The Western diet is highly deficient in Potassium salt.

    In discussing Salt intake we need to make very clear this distinction. It is potentially far more important than discussing the quantity consumed as so called recommended daily intake figures can be seriously misleading or downright wrong.

  9. Although I am unable to leave the taste of salt behind, i am with you 100%.
    SALT is the oldest of bad corrupted lifestyle or eating habits of mankind.
    Certain things like Salt or Milk came in at a time may be for some valuable health reasons at that time and they should have gone for good of mankind.But they didnt. They stayed with us to cause aging,and worning out of tissues, muscles, and various diseases.
    In Tamil, there was an old saying which is probably repeated in different words in other languages. IF a food contains No healthysalts, Throw it in the dustbin.
    The fact is they did never say SODIUM CHLORIDE. They said, Healthy Biologically good salts. That includes, sodium,potassium, mag.etc. In all religious epics and old health books and civilisations and histories, SALT MEANS ALL SALTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE HEALTH AND SURVIVAL.
    But we have overdosed, processed wrongly,corrutped the sodium chloride beyond further possibilities; that alone causes diseases. It is not “moderate use of wholesome natural sodium” that causes heart problems, but the presence of other harmful chemicals which are not named normally that are responsible for the heart problems. The same is the story with white sugar.
    My nature guru who lived on exclusively coconuts and bananas alone, proclaimed salt is TOTAL POISON FOR THE BODY. Whether it is sea salt or others. He lived healthy and strong but slim, without using salt for more than 20 yrs I think. He had a son who from birth never touched salt, till age 25. Did they not live healthy?
    We are a bundle of myths wrong beliefs,and we are a prisoner of our own bundle of myths wrong beliefs!
    IT IS TRUE OUR MIND WRONG REASONING CASUISTRY HAS DITCHED US FROM LIVING THE LIFE OF A RATIONAL HUMAN BEING. I changed a lot and avoided taking drugs for the past 30 yrs. But Himal Salt I am unable to leave behind. Your article is very informative. There is no argument at all to dispute what you wrote.
    Him salt provide Pottasium which is needed by the heart and Mag for cells and tissues and muscles and for various functions of the body. The trouble brewing is SALT IS NOT HUMAN FOOD. The same things minerals available thru fruits and veg raw ones are ALONE MEANT FOR MANKIND!
    As you suggested WE MUST ENDEAVOR TO DEVOUR LESS OF SALT TO DEFEND OUR HEALTH.
    THANK YOU.
    I will join your fb pages.

    param ofsunflowerdance in facebook &
    http://www.sunflowerdance.com

  10. Ana says:

    I always enjoy reading articles discussing salt. I used to believe salt was bad. I used to not add salt to my food and did not use any while cooking. I always had a HUGE salt craving. Many years ago, I became quite sick and was hospitalized for a long period. My heart rate and blood pressure were sky high. I was put on a strict low sodium diet (about 1200 mg per day). My blood pressure and heart rate continued to rise to very dangerous levels. I finally got myself discharged against medical advice and started consuming salt in abundance. Behold, my blood pressure and heart rate started decreasing. When I was consuming about 5 grams of salt a day, my blood pressure and heart rate were near normal.

    After many investigations, I have found out about 20% of the population have a need for a HIGH sodium intake. If you eat a healthy diet (i.e., NOT processed food) and crave salt, it is probably a signal your body needs more salt. I have heard a number of stories where a child eats a lot of salt but is otherwise normal. The medical community interferes and puts the child on a low sodium diet. Often, the child dies or suffers severe medical complications because the body needs high sodium levels to function. I shutter at the thought of what might have happened to me if I would not have gotten myself discharged and on to a high sodium diet.

    Now, I eat salt until my body is satisfied. Some days I eat 5 grams; some days I eat 10 grams. My resting heart rate is about 45-50 beats per minute and my blood pressure is about 100/60 mm Hg. Who knew the answer to my high blood pressure and heart rate was salt!?

  11. Alexis says:

    I DO admit that I am a salt addict and I DO NOT intend to leave salt out of my life ! ! !
    Agree, white salt is BAD for our bodies but you must have heard about benefits of Himalayan (pink)
    salt or raw salt mined in Poland, not processed!
    That is NOT the same salt as you buy, the white processed stuff at the market.
    Himalayan salt contains over 80 minerals which are good for your body!
    Will you tell me that this one is BAD for me as well?
    White table salt – OUT ! ! ! ! !
    PINK salt – IN ! ! ! !
    Alexis

  12. Ramon Smith says:

    If you really can’t do without a salty favour, you could try using a small amount of low-sodium salt substitute. If you have kidney problems or diabetes, check with your doctor or nurse first.

  13. Gary says:

    Thanks for this article. I think people tend to focus on things like fat, sugar and calories but they miss the boat on salt. I know I did for the longest time until about a year ago.

    Unless you’re preparing your own food you are probably eating a ton of salt. I used to buy canned vegetable soup from places like Whole Foods thinking that this was a quick easy way to get a healthy meal. It’s pretty common for a basic can of soup to have over 1000mg of sodium. Evey the low salt versions have over 500mg.

    It’s shocking when you start looking at the salt content of just about any packaged food.

    And its worse eating at restaurants or fast food joints.

  14. Anthea says:

    Great article, Fred. I’ve found salt much harder to give up than sugar. As a raw foodie, I find that often, if I add salt it leads me to want more, and then it leads me to cooked foods or more and more cooked foods. Without it my tastebuds can accept and enjoy simpler whole foods and I’m inclined to eat to satiation rather than overeating. I also lose excess water weight. Personally, giving up salt has had more pluses than minuses.

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