Getting A Fair Shake
By Fiona Breslin
Make no mistake, the human body, having emerged from the primordial oceans eons ago, requires salt for good health. But the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reports that the average American diet contains far more salt than is healthy. Diets high in salt can increase the risk of stomach cancer and can be cause high blood pressure that can lead to heart disease.
Where does all the salt in our diet come from? If you’ve ever felt thirsty after eating prepared food from the supermarket deli, or after a take-out dinner, it’s because fast and prepared foods tend to use a lot of salt to make the dishes taste good. Detecting how much salt you are consuming is not always easy. Salt amounts can be easily controlled in dishes made from scratch at home, but heavily processed and pre-prepared foods are another story. There are the obvious culprits — chips, processed meats, salamis and bacon, for instance — but excess salt also lurks in canned and frozen veggies, cheese, sweets and pastries, and even in foods that appear to be healthy such as whole grain cereals and organic canned beans.
To get clear about how much sodium you’re taking in per serving, the AICR recommends a careful reading of the nutritional labels that are on all packaged foods. This can help to bring consumption in line with the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 mg of sodium or 1 level teaspoon of salt per day.
A simple rule of thumb to reach this goal: don’t eat too many processed or pre-prepared foods, however good they look; don’t get too many take-out dinners, as convenient as they may be; do read labels; and whenever possible, cook from scratch.
These days there are many different types of salt to buy, the most common being table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt. Table salt is highly refined salt enriched with iodine that is usually laced with chemical additives to stop it from clumping in damp conditions. Kosher salt is a flaky, coarse-grained salt that is less refined than table salt and additive free. Sea salt comes from evaporated seawater and contains trace minerals, which may enhance its nutritional properties and taste over table salt. There are many different types of sea salt from fine white to coarse grey,and all are worth a try. But even with a natural product from the sea, salt is still salt, and should be used sparingly
We like to use kosher salt or fine sea salt for cooking, and the more expensive grey sea salts as a condiment. Always correct the seasoning of your dishes toward the end of cooking. You can always add salt, but once it’s there, you can’t take it out. A pinch of salt added to vegetables as you sauté them for a stew or soup will bring out their juices and flavor, as in our Fennel Scented Butternut Squash Soup. But salt added to a marinade for meat or fish will draw out their juices into the marinade, so if you don’t want a dry piece of grilled fish or chicken, rub in a little salt just before cooking. Check out our Baked Chicken in Adobo for a tasty example. Put salt into the boiling water for pasta when making our Spicy Pasta with Kale and Almonds, a dish made with whole-wheat penne, then add some red chili pepper for an extra kick.