I’ve gone on a hunt for salt in my food as World Salt Awareness Week (March 26 – April 1), declared by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), approaches.
Awareness is important because most Canadians consume about twice as much sodium as they need every day and exceed the upper limit (2,300 mg for everyone 14 years old and over) for this element.
High sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.
Dietary sodium comes mainly from salt. I have been blissfully unaware about the amount of salt in the food I eat. I even felt a little righteous about it, as I seldom use the salt shaker to season my food at the table, and I do not add salt to the water when boiling vegetables.
Then I did some reading, to prepare for a few cooking classes about building flavour with other ingredients besides salt. I quickly learned that while putting away the salt shaker is an easy way to avoid adding extra salt that none of us need, it’s a misconception to think that this change will put a big dent in sodium consumption for most people.
The numbers clearly show that it is processed and prepared foods, including bread, deli meats, soups, sauces and cheese, which supply a great deal of the sodium we eat. According to Health Canada, it breaks down like this. Processed foods supply 77 per cent of the sodium in a typical Canadian diet, 12 per cent occurs naturally in foods such as milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, six per cent is added while cooking, via sauces, salt, condiments and dressings and eight per cent is added at the table.
The most effective way, in my opinion, to appreciably reduce the amount of sodium in our meals is to replace most of the processed food we eat with home-cooked whole food prepared with a minimum of salt. When we do use commercially processed foods, such as chicken stock and canned tomatoes in cooking, it’s a good idea to choose no-added-salt versions when available.
Reducing the amount of salt in foods does change the flavour; there is no doubt about that. However, expectations change and taste receptors become more sensitive to accommodate the reduced levels of salt after a few weeks of making the change.
You can build flavour with the use of spices, herbs, aromatic vegetables such as onions and garlic, chiles and other peppers, lemon and lime, oils and vinegars. Cooking techniques can help too: steaming vegetables accentuates their fresh flavours, and roasting intensifies tastes.
Here’s a way to prepare a flavourful fish entrée, without using salt. Cut a rectangle of parchment paper large enough to wrap the fish fillet or steak that you are using, and lay it on a baking sheet.
Place a thin slices of onion, or a chopped green onion, and a little minced garlic in the middle of the parchment.
Add the fish.
Top the fish with a drizzle of olive oil, a grinding of black pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and a plume of fresh dill.
Pull up the edges of the parchment paper, and seal, tucking the ends under the package.
Bake at 220 C (425 F) for about 10 minutes per 2.5 cm (1 inch) of thickness. Unwrap the packet carefully, as it will be full of steam, and serve.
This dressing for this tasty salad is seasoned with sumac, a tart powder made from the berries of a sumac tree.
Buy sumac at a bulk food store, Mediterranean grocery store or farmers’ market. It’s risky to make your own as the berries from some sumac trees are harmful to eat.
This salad was a favourite with participants in a go!PEI class I taught last week on cooking with spices.
Fattoush (Middle Eastern
Adapted from The International Collections: Home-Cooked Meals from Around the World, Canadian Living. Transcontinental Books, Montreal, 2011.
250 mL (1 cup) thinly sliced red onion
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber (about 30 cm/12 inches long), seeded and diced
1 sweet green pepper, diced
6 radishes, sliced
50 mL (¼ cup) shredded fresh mint
75 mL (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
50 mL (¼ cup) lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 mL (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
7 mL (1 ½ tsp) ground sumac or grated lemon zest
1 L (4 cups) torn romaine lettuce
2 tomatoes, diced
In a large bowl, combine red onion, green onions, cucumber, pepper, radishes and mint.
Whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar and sumac; pour over vegetables and toss to coat. (Make-ahead: cover and refrigerate for up to 3 hours.)
Toast pitas in 190 C (375 F) oven or toaster oven until crisp, about 7 minutes.
Let cool. Break into bite-size chunks.
Add pita bread chunks, lettuce and tomatoes to bowl; toss to coat.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
I’ll be showing other flavourful vegetable dishes, seasoned with a minimum of salt, at a go!PEI class at Hillcrest United Church in Montague this Thursday morning.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.