For the next three weeks, the American Heart Association challenges you to kick back on the salt. But that doesn’t mean three weeks of eating boring, bland food. Instead, it means you’re about to discover a whole world of flavor beyond the shaker. And experience a few AHA flavor moments.
Trust me, almost a decade ago, I stood right where you are today — in front of the refrigerator and pantry wondering what I could eat on a low-sodium diet. In 2004, I was diagnosed with lupus-related kidney failure and was told that a low-sodium diet would greatly benefit my health and my condition. But after the initial shock, I began to take low-sodium seriously. And while I thought that this new diet would limit my food, with a little creativity and salt-free sleuthing, I quickly discovered that it would transform me into a more exciting eater than ever before.
So as you avoid the Salty Six, keep your palate open to the many of other ways you can create sweet, savory, spicy, and yes, even salty flavors, without the shaker. And by using the tips below, learn how to give any low-sodium dish kick, color, and satisfying bite. I assure you that you won’t miss the salt, but you’ll begin tasting all the other flavors you’ve been missing!
SPICES, HERBS, VINEGARS, AND OILS
Salt is a wonderful flavor enhancer…but thank goodness, it isn’t the only one. Far from it, actually. The next time you go to the grocery store, spend a moment in the spice aisle and feast your eyes on the rainbow of other flavor power-houses you can use when cooking. From paprika to curry to cumin, the world of spices will give even simple meals (like roasted chicken or sauteed vegetables) an interesting bite. But don’t forget about flavored vinegars, flavored oils, and fresh and dried herbs — keeping these kitchen staples around will give even plain pasta to play a starring role on the table.
So as you venture into a low-sodium world, stock up on these essentials and begin to experiment. If you need some direction on how to use a certain flavor-enhancing spices or oils or vinegars or herbs, the Internet is a perfect source of inspiration and education. But remember, check labels. Even spices, oils, and vinegars can contain salt or seasoning. So buy only items marked no-salt-added or contain zero mg salt.
You know how a squeeze of lemon brightens up a glass of water? Just imagine what it might do over your next salad, cup of rice, or even bowl of soup. Like salt, a squeeze of citrus helps awaken other flavors in a dish. And because a few wedges of lime or lemon are easy to find when eating out, it makes a satisfying swap for salty dressings or sauces. So whether you use the zest, the juice, or both, reach for the citrus (not the salt) when your palate needs that extra kick.
The more you can surprise yourself and your palate, the less you’ll miss the salt. So when making meals at home, take creative liberties with recipes and add uncommon ingredients into the mix. To avoid higher-sodium items, make a pasta sauce with pureed pumpkin (which tends to very little to no sodium). Use jams instead of steak sauce. Toss salads with juicy berries instead of dressing. And be swept away by the surprising, low-sodium combinations.
COLOR AND FEEL
As the adage goes: you eat as much with your eyes as your mouth. Meaning the look of your meal can be just as important as what you put it in. So don’t shy away from bright colored plates or bright ingredients. And mix up textures as well, putting creamy and crunchy together. The more there is to see and feel, the less you’ll look for the salt.
OVENS, GRILLS, AND SLOW ROASTERS
Not all flavor comes in a bottle. You can actually create a super tasty meal with just your ingredients and an oven, a grill, or a slow roaster. These cooking tools help coax the natural sweetness and savory tastes from whole foods — meats and vegetables alike. And a grill will even lend a savory, smoky flavor to your ingredients. So to switch things up by letting your meals stew, smoke, and simmer.
SWISS CHARD TO QUINOA
Have you tasted a radish lately? In its raw form it is quite peppery. How about a pepper? When fresh, it is quite sweet. And what about a piece of celery? It’s actually a little bit “salty.” Or how about some brown rice? It’s pretty nutty.
The purpose of this quiz is to demonstrate that the best place of all is to start finding salt-free flavors is to look to the ingredients themselves. Especially when you eat unfamiliar foods, you’ll experience their hidden flavors for the first time and be too distracted to look for the salt. So whether it is swiss chard, quinoa, or lentils, introduce new ingredients into your diet and favorite recipes to keep your mind off the shaker and on a new world of flavor.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Read more about Jessica’s journey to a low-sodium life by going to www.sodiumgirl.com.
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The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.