Limiting sodium can be a bit tricky at first. Most of the flavor we enjoy in food comes from one of three things: sugar, fat, or salt. Our palates just love the tasty stuff. And the more of it we eat, the more we need to experience the same pleasurable taste sensation. Sound kind of like addiction to you? Ehhhhh-xactly.
Besides flavor, sodium is also used as a preservative in many foods and often foods that don’t even taste salty, which can be confusing for some people just learning about limiting sodium.
Anyway, it is possible to decrease sodium intake without eating tasteless cardboard. I promise! There are several ways to increase flavor and leave the sodium out:
- Herbs and spices: These are the best! Natural, delicious, and many are anti-inflammatory. Find a bulk section (like Winco) or grow your own for the best value. Check out the chart below from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for tips on matching herbs and spices to the food you’re making tonight:
Food Item Flavorings Beef Basil, bay leaf, caraway, curry, dill, dry mustard, garlic, grape jelly, green pepper, mace, marjoram, mushrooms, nutmeg, onion, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage Chicken Basil, cloves, cranberries, mace, mushrooms, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, pineapple, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, tomato, turmeric Egg Chervil, curry, dill, dry mustard, green pepper, lemon juice, marjoram, mushrooms, paprika, pepper, tarragon, tomato, turmeric Fish Basil, bay leaf, chervil, curry, dill, dry mustard, green pepper, lemon juice, marjoram, mushrooms, paprika, pepper, tarragon, tomato, turmeric Lamb Cloves, curry, dill, garlic, mace, mint, mint jelly, onion, oregano, parsley, pineapple, rosemary, tarragon, thyme Pork Applesauce, basil, caraway, chives, cloves, garlic, onions, rosemary, thyme Vegetables Basil, dill, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, tarragon, tomato, salt-free salad dressing, vinegar Desserts Allspice, anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, vanilla extract
- Pre-made spice mixes: If you aren’t big on growing or buying herbs yourself, you can get a little help from sodium-free spice mix products like Mrs. Dash. The Mrs. Dash line has several pre-made spice mixes like Caribbean Citrus, Italian Medley, or Steak Grilling seasonings, all made without salt. I personally have only tried the original and I like it, especially on fish. I have several patients who have tried other flavors with success!
- Lite salt/salt substitutes: These are usually made with potassium chloride as opposed to sodium chloride (table salt) to decrease intakes of sodium. I use it at home and in recipes and the taste is similar enough I don’t notice it. Be aware: people with kidney disease or who are on certain diuretic blood pressure medications should not use salt substitutes because their bodies can not clear potassium as well as others. Ask your doctor before switching to salt substitute if you have any of these concerns.
And lastly, be patient! Your tastes will adjust to the point where they will enjoy the flavors of food with less salt, but it does take time. Most of my patients say that after 4-6 weeks of limiting sodium, the high-sodium foods they used to eat taste way too salty for them! You can do it!