Over these past few weeks, I’ve been writing an awful lot about salt and sodium. Who knew there would be so much to say about it? Actually, there’s still a lot more to say, but we’re going to wrap things up on this topic this week.
Interesting news about sodium to share with you: First, ConAgra Foods, makers of well-known brands such as Chef Boyardee, Banquet, Hunt’s, and Healthy Choice, announced last week that they’ve removed almost 3 million pounds (!!) of salt from many of their products. They also apparently have new technology that enables them to reduce the amount of sodium in their microwave popcorn. So far, ConAgra has been able to cut the sodium content in many of their foods by between 15% and 20%, all the while preserving flavor.
Secondly, ConAgra’s timely statement coincides with a report released in the journal The Lancet last week. British researchers looked at studies of people living in 23 countries, including the United States, India, Russia, and Vietnam. They specifically focused on the relationship between salt intake and blood pressure and found, not surprisingly, that in societies with a high sodium intake, blood pressure increases quite a bit as people age. What really hits home is their conclusion that “8.5 million deaths can be averted by 2015 if people consume 3 to 4.5 grams of kitchen salt per day, or around a 30% less salt than average.”
Last week (in “Shaking the Salt [Part 3]”), we looked at ways to reduce sodium intake. Several readers have mentioned the use of other kinds of salt and salt substitutes. Salt used in cooking comes in three forms: table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt. All of these salts are about 99% sodium chloride. The primary difference between the three has to do with the size of the crystal, and thus, the texture.
Table salt is mined from under the ground and has a finer, more uniform texture. Table salt usually contains iodine, to maintain healthy thyroid function, as well as an anticaking agent. Kosher salt comes from either the sea or from underground, and is a larger, coarser crystal. It gets its name from the koshering process in which it’s used. Sea salt is harvested from, of course, the sea, and contains minerals. Depending on the mineral content, the color of sea salt can vary. Sea salt may have either a fine or coarse texture. These three different types of salt contain the same amount of sodium per serving. However, because sea salt and kosher salt are “larger” than table salt (meaning, you can “fit” more table salt into a measuring spoon), you may end up using less of these two salts. Just don’t think of sea salt or kosher salt as being low in sodium, however.
The term “salt substitute” is a little ambiguous. Some people take it to mean “lite” salt, which is not really a salt substitute. For example, Morton Lite Salt Mixture contains 50% less sodium than regular salt (so it’s obviously not sodium-free). Morton also has a product called Salt Balance, which contains 25% less sodium than regular salt. (And Morton has Popcorn Salt, which is just a finer version of regular salt—it’s not a reduced-sodium product).
However, Morton does make a true salt substitute (called Morton Salt Substitute!) that contains potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. NuSalt and AlsoSalt are other brands of salt substitutes that also contain potassium chloride. While getting more potassium (and less sodium) in one’s diet can be a good thing, some people should not use salt substitutes without first checking with their physician. These folks include people with kidney disease and those taking medicines that can lead to potassium retention in the body, such as ACE inhibitors (which are often used by people who have diabetes). Too much potassium can lead to heart rhythm disturbances.
Remember, too, that there are plenty of other sodium-free and low-sodium ways to season your foods—herbs, spices, and seasoning blends such as Mrs. Dash are all great choices!