closeup of hand holding salt shaker

Salt: To Taste?

As a dietitian in a hospital focused on heart health, coming down hard on salt is part of the job description. The recommendations for 2,300 milligrams of sodium to reduce cardiovascular and hypertension risk or 1,500 milligrams for those with hypertension – I likely recite in my sleep.

But since there are 2,360 milligrams of sodium in just a teaspoon of iodized table salt, you don’t get much salt to use as a seasoning. So when asked how much salt do you use when it says “salt, to taste” in a recipe, my knee-jerk answer is simple: none.

But I don’t think many people in the culinary community who would agree with me.

The new dietary guidelines for Americans point out, “Most of the sodium consumed in the U.S. comes from salt added during commercial food processing and preparation, including foods prepared at restaurants.” By avoiding ready meals and processed foods and cooking at home from scratch instead, you might allow yourself a little “salt, to taste.”

(I’m still in a bit of disbelief that I wrote that.)

If you are trying to stay within the recommendations but want to avoid a bland final product keep these ideas in mind:

  • Start by looking for recipes with lean cuts of meat, lots of produce and spices for flavor. These ingredients should have very little sodium.
  • When prepping ingredients, make sure to take a look at the nutrition facts to see just how many already have sodium and how much. Remember, the less ingredients with labels, the better.
  • There is a difference between adding spices to a dish and seasoning your dish. Spices like black pepper, chili powder or oregano add their own flavors. While seasoning (with salt) is designed to enhance the flavor of the ingredients, I would argue that a recipe that has lots of spices might not require as much seasoning. A culinary expert might disagree.
  • Properly seasoning a dish with salt should happen in stages throughout the cooking process, allowing it to more drastically change the flavor or moisture. Letting your meat rest with a little salt on it, adding a little salt before roasting or sautéing vegetables and boiling grains in salted water would be examples of when you can make a bigger impact with salt. But start with no more than ⅛ teaspoon each time you add. Then taste it (when safe) regularly through the cooking process.
  • Salting your food is when you add salt at the very end, because you want the actual flavor of salt. French fries, chips and popcorn would be good examples. If you’re trying to reduce your sodium, avoiding salting your food.
  • Learning to properly season your food can be tricky – trial and error is needed. I’d still say it’s best to avoid adding in salt at the end, just because it says “add salt to taste.”

If you try these approaches but still struggle to eat healthier because everything is bland, you can start adding pinches of salt (about ⅛ teaspoon each) earlier in the cooking process. It can help!

If you’d like to learn more about healthy diet choices, contact the Avera Heart Hospital Dietitian Team.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.