In How much salt is too much of a good thing, we reviewed why we need salt, the role it plays in our body, and where you’ll find it in your diet. What we didn’t cover is why we love salt. So let’s get to that here.
Salt Makes Food Taste Good
Salt enhances almost every food item you add it to. The more you like and crave salted foods, the more you notice its absence in foods that lack it. Back in the day, salt’s main purpose was to keep foods from going bad. It wasn’t until much later that it reached its culinary status for enhancing and elevating the flavor of food.
And guess what? It’s been proven that adding salt increases a food’s appeal — not just the flavor, but also the perceived thickness, fullness and overall balance of that particular food.
Salt Is Addictive
As it turns out, our appetite for salt may share the same nerve cells in the brain that are regulated by addictive drugs, according to Duke University and Australian researchers. More specifically, the genes connected with our instinctive behavior, salt appetite, are also connected to cocaine and opiate addiction.
It’s true that our body needs salt, but most — not all — of us could stand to cut back on it. So, how do you know whether you should ease up on your salt intake?
Are you an athlete?
If yes, there’s usually no need to cut back. Athletes who sweat for one or more hours per day lose salt in their sweat and are therefore usually more concerned with salt repletion than restriction. Rice University provides helpful information for endurance athletes looking to refill their sodium stores during training and competition.
Do processed foods make up more than half of your daily diet?
Processed foods include restaurant foods, frozen meals, canned foods and soups, deli meats, cheese and packaged snack foods. If these make up more than half of your daily diet, then you may want to cut back. Just one serving of any of these food items could easily contain half or more of your daily recommended intake of sodium. This doesn’t leave much wiggle room during the day for additional meals and snacks that contain salt.
Too much sodium on a regular basis can lead to hypertension and other serious health problems.
Do you suffer from hypertension, kidney disease, osteoporosis or heart failure?
According to the American Heart Association, all of these risk factors are severely affected by excessive sodium intake.
How Do I Pass on the Salt and Still Make My Food Taste Good?
Try different ways to season and texture your food.
- Try salt alternatives like fresh herbs, dried spices, garlic, onion, cinnamon, ginger, lemon, vinegar, fresh salsa and hot sauces.
- Buy fresh food. It will taste better naturally and need less enhancing.
- Re-train your taste buds. Choose steamed and grilled items more often and keep sauces on the side.
Initially, lower-salt foods may taste bland. But your taste buds will adapt, and you’ll start to enjoy all of the great flavors that were once overpowered by too much salt.