Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pinching Salt


Recently, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. My doctor prescribed low-dose diuretics, exercise, and a low-sodium diet. Normally, I avoid prescription medicines, but the diuretics – and the exercise – were a must. Only two weeks after that initial appointment, results of implementing just these two recommendations were apparent in significantly reduced blood pressure.

The only remaining challenge – other than finding the early morning motivation to rise and exercise – was in figuring out how to decrease sodium intake. For years now, we've been altering the foods we eat to serve this and other healthful purposes: buying far fewer (if any) pre-packaged foods, mixes, sauces, stock, etc.; quitting soda consumption altogether; and very seldom buying junk foods (potato chips, fast foods, etc.) Most of what we eat is made "from scratch" and we often make recipe substitutions (or alterations) to reduce sodium, trans- and hydrolyzed-vegetable fats and sugar. There are few components of our diet that we haven't tweaked to make healthier. Even boiling water for pasta is much less saline than it once was.

So, where hadn't we adjusted sodium intake? After thoroughly examining our diet, I found the one area we hadn't touched: the salt shaker. And its use makes actual intake so much harder to gauge. Just how much salt is sprinkled to pre-season meat? Just how much is added on the dinner plate?

Hoping to consume less sodium, I considered switching to a commercial brand of seasoning salt. However, when I researched the available products, I became discouraged. Each brand contained some ingredient we avoid. One label seemed misleading, too. A popular brand contains sugar but, rather than list that carbohydrate on the nutritional label, it omits that category altogether.

Instead, I decided to make our own, and found a very tasty recipe online (About.com: Seasoned Salt recipe). The recipe suggests garlic and celery salts, but I used garlic powder and celery seeds. Even with these adjustments, the mixture is still 75% sodium. However, that's 25% less than regular table salt and, since we're now measuring the use of this substitute, we're consuming much less added sodium than ever before. Each "smidgen" (1/32 teaspoon) contains approximately 55 mg of sodium. General recommendations for daily sodium intake are between 2 and 3 grams (2000-3000 mg), so each smidgen is equivalent to 2.75% of the lower suggested amount. I went a step further and halved the amount of salt used in the recipe, effectively decreasing those percentages while still delivering a delicious flavour profile.

Flavour is, after all, the reason the salt shaker was being used. This mixture (even the 37.5% sodium blend) packs a huge flavour-punch! Wherever possible, it now replaces regular salt in daily cooking and makes sodium-reduced meals unusually delectable. Better yet, unlike commercial brands, this home-made seasoned salt contains: no MSG; no sugar; no flavour- or colour-enhancers; no fillers (like corn starch), no hydrolyzed vegetable protein, no lecithin (of which hubby is very sensitive), and, no anti-clumping chemicals (such as tricalcium sulphate.) Another benefit of preparing home-made seasonings isn't, perhaps, immediately apparent. The recent, massive recall of pre-packaged spice blends was stark illustration of other possible and uncontrollable health risks in consuming commercial blends. None of the whole and powdered spices we use in this concoction were involved in that recall.

Now that I've tried this mixture, I'm (almost) happy for the diagnosis that prompted its discovery. It tastes so good that hubby is now using it, too. A startling result as he once used the salt shaker with abandon. This seasoning, though intended only for my welfare, is also reducing hubby's sodium intake...no nagging required!