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Taking Stock of Salt

November 22, 2011 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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When I was in culinary school, I found the liberal use of salt almost as appalling as the even more liberal use of butter. Instructions to season to taste had nothing to do with fresh herbs or pepper. It really meant add salt. It took me about four months to finally add enough salt to my dishes to appease my instructors.

The sad part is that the only real criticism of my final practicum, the preparation of four courses in 3.5 hours of culinary chaos (picture food flying, pulse pounding and a few near misses with the gas stove), was that my food was a bit "too salty." Bah! Finally I found the line and crossed it. Good to know there is one because I was starting to wonder.

My love for cooking leads me to use more fresh than packaged foods, which are naturally low in salt. But when I cook I can still hear my French chef instructor's voice in my head saying, "it needs more salt la!" which has made my salt use more generous over time. Recently I wondered…have I gone too far?

Salt can enhance flavours but needs to be used judiciously; a little goes a long way. When I cook at home, I may add a pinch or two to the entire dish during cooking or a few sprinkles of coarse salt at the end. As an experiment, the other night when I added salt to my cooking, I put an equal amount in a bowl. At the end of my cooking I measured it out; it was less than ¼ of a teaspoon. Divided up among 4 servings, that is actually pretty small compared to the sodium in many ready-to-eat entrees. I'm doing better than I thought!

Cooking from scratch gives me flexibility as I can control how much salt goes into my food and I can take advantage of other flavour enhancers like fresh herbs, vinegars and wine to add that pièce de résistance to my dishes.

Salt is one way to help develop flavours in a dish, but it's easy to go overboard. How do you take stock of your salt?

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Comments (13)

Cynthia

Posted on Tuesday November 22, 2011 a 5:32pm

I have been cooking Indian food lately and find that the Indian spices like garam marsala, tumeric and ground ginger are so flavourful that salt is not needed. I have been using tumeric in other dishes as well. It is delicious with cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower. My teenage kids love it.

CarysAdams3

Posted on Monday November 28, 2011 a 6:59pm

Yes, I've been using more herbs. I'm trying to cut back on the salt. I grew some herbs in my garden this summer and have dried them. They're great in sauces!

rose77

Posted on Monday November 28, 2011 a 10:32pm

Thanks for the link you provided in the blog to your other blog "Flavour with Less Salt". Some great ideas in that list.

reggie3

Posted on Monday November 28, 2011 a 10:44pm

What is the difference between rock salt and table salt? Does it have less sodium?

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Friday December 2, 2011 a 6:14pm

Great question reggie3. Rock salt has the same composition as table salt (sodium chloride). Generally it is marketed as “rock salt” when it is sold in larger coarser crystals than table salt. Because it takes longer to dissolve (due to its larger size) it is most often sprinkled on foods just before serving, instead of being added during cooking. Rock salt/table salt has about the same amount of sodium as sea salt. Check out Dean’s blog “Awash with sea salt” for the run down on how different types of salt measure up. - Andrea

CindyD.

Posted on Wednesday November 30, 2011 a 7:33pm

Appalled at the liberal use of butter? It is very tiresome and indeed dated to be reading about the evils of butter and/or the demonization of saturated fats. It is particularly disturbing that this information is being disseminated on a site that is trying to promote health. Butter is not the cause of modern disease and in fact saturated fats play an important role in body chemistry. (Source: Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon/Weston Price Foundation). Saturated fats support the integrity of cell membranes, they help with the absorption of calcium in our bones, they lower Lp(a), they are liver protective, enhance immune function through important antimicrobial properties that protect our digestive system, and are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Science does not support the assertion that saturated fat clogs arteries and causes heart disease. Only 26% of the fat in artery clogs is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated. Cholesterol and other problems including cancer, obesity, diabetes etc. are all associated with the consumption of unnatural hydrogenated vegetable oils NOT natural, traditional and indeed nutritious fats like butter. Please stop fuelling myth.

mjoffres

Posted on Thursday December 1, 2011 a 4:43pm

They are not fuelling a myth. Trans fats are a problem, correct, but saturated fats too. Yes, saturated fats have a place, but the issue is the amount we are eating. If you believe in the evidence, then check this reference (Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S, 2010 Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS Med 7(3): e1000252. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000252) and you will find that the evidence for replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats is pretty strong.

dani33

Posted on Friday December 2, 2011 a 2:54pm

What is more tiresome is that people don't read correctly. I did not see anywhere in the blog stating how "evil" butter and saturated fats are. You clearly are adding things to the blog that were not there in the first place. The biggest thing I read overall, was that we must learn to limit our use of salt (and probably butter). Moderation is the key, and that is all that was stated. Your long winded post was a little unnecessary.

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Friday December 2, 2011 a 6:14pm

Thanks CindyD, mjoffres and dani33. This is great discussion and illustrates how complicated nutrition can be. It’s true that not all fats are created equal and it is a very complex area of nutrition. Thank you for pointing out the implications of partially hydrogenated (trans) fat. For our readers that may not be as familiar, it is recommended that industrially produced rans fat be avoided as much as possible in our diets given their impact on our heart health. To facilitate this, we have a Trans Fat Regulation in BC to minimize trans fat in food service establishments. This blog entry includes a reference to butter to highlight some excesses I observed in the culinary world, in particular the use (or over use) of salt. My experience in a culinary school setting was that butter and salt, at times, were used far more liberally than one could suggest would be within the limits of moderation. For example, butter would sometimes be added to make foods “shiny”, which didn’t really contribute to the flavour but certainly contributed to the (often high) saturated and total fat content of the meal. It was visually appealing though! The message I believe in, and one that we promote through HealthyFamilies BC, is moderation, variety and balance; an “all foods can fit” approach. A little bit of fat, including butter, can add to the enjoyment and taste of food and we certainly need some fat in our diet for good health as you have indicated. Canada’s Food Guide recommends including 2 to 3 tbsp of unsaturated fats (such as olive or canola oil) as our added fat each day. It also recommends limiting (not necessarily excluding) saturated fats found in foods such as fatty meats, butter, full-fat dairy products and coconut and palm oil. These recommendations are made to help us get the essential fatty acids we need, minimize our risk of heart disease and also to help us leave room for the foods we enjoy that contain all the other nutrients we need. This evidence is well laid out in the reference mjoffres shared. Thanks for that! Thanks for being part of the conversation! - Andrea

TerryFirma

Posted on Sunday December 4, 2011 a 11:53am

None of you, including MJoffres appears to know very much about salt. You mindlessly repeat anti-salt dogma, but very few actual studies. The need for salt reduction is a myth. There are more peer-reviewed meta-reviews in the medical literature cautioning against salt-reduction than supporting it. In just the last two weeks, N. Gradual in Am. J. Hyper., highlighted how salt reduction increases several risk factors for all, including elevated renin, aldosterone, cholesterol and triglycerides while providing minimal benefits to hypertensives and no benefits to anyone else. The O’Donnell paper in JAMA confirms many previous publications demonstrating that reducing salt below current intakes down to the Joffre recommended levels of 1500 – 2300 mg sodium/day results in significantly increased mortality. Obviously, you don't mind playing with the lives of others. Combined with the mass of previous evidence, the case against population-wide salt reduction is overwhelming. It has become patently transparent that the IOM, CDC, WHO are all doggedly backing a position that is no longer scientifically tenable in face ofall the new evidence. But BC Health's role isnot to protect the reputations of ideologues or hide-bound bureaucrats in public health agencies – it is to protect the health of consumers. In that it falls flat on its face. Do-gooders who don't do their homework can be very dangerous because that are so convinced they are right and highly righteous.

TerryFirma

Posted on Sunday December 4, 2011 a 12:06pm

Oh, almost forgot. Rock salt is deep-mined from ancient dried sea bed deposits. It is therefore an edible rock and comes up to the surface that way. It is definitely not “rock salt” because it is sold in larger coarser crystals than table salt. You made that up. Table salt comes from solution-mined saturated salt brine that is evaporated. Evaporation into larger crystal agglomerates results in the commercial Kosher salt you see for sale. It is virtually identical to regular table. Sea salt comes from fresh seas and is usually solar-evaporated. Food Grade salt is any form of salt (rock, evaporated or sea) that contains a minimum of 97% sodium chloride. We currently eat less salt than ever before in recorded history. If anyone has a peer reviewed publication proving otherwise, they should present it here.

Mylissa

Posted on Wednesday December 7, 2011 a 3:18pm

Interesting discussion here! I agree with the concern about the evidence for a salt restriction. HealthyfamiliesBC what sources do you use to support your claims about sodium? It seems to me that many credible articles are not supporting a cut in sodium across the board. If the average Canadian is having about 3400mg - do you have actual evidence that supports this is too much?

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Monday December 12, 2011 a 4:22pm

Hi TerryFirma and Mylissa. Thanks for weighing in on the discussion.

Healthy Families BC is committed to providing British Columbians with the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. We recommend reduction of dietary sodium as a key factor in healthy eating to reduce the incidence of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.

We are pleased that the forum has sparked discussion on the evidence supporting our recommendations. Please visit Sodium and Your Health for more information on the position of Healthy Families BC on sodium and it's role in public health.

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