The Gleeful Gourmand: A Word Or Two About Salt

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Word Or Two About Salt

This week we received our copy of Bottom Line in the mail and I was intrigued to see this headline screaming from one of the pages: “Salt Is Even Worse Than They Say." My first reaction was to sigh and mutter, “Here we go again.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about sick to death of all the alarmist stuff doctors, magazines and the like come out with on a weekly basis about what’s good for you and what’s not. Take the egg, for instance. It’s good for you! It’s bad for you! It’s okay in moderation! It’s the worst food you could eat EVER! Oh, actually, it’s pretty good for you. It’s exhausting trying to keep track of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and what’s harmful and what’s not.

Regardless, the article did get me thinking about salt intake. According to the American Heart Association, most Americans consume more than 10,000 mg of salt daily. That seems like an incredible amount, but I can believe it. The author (Mark Houston, MD) says we should only consume 500 mg. There’s even a National Salt Reduction Initiative that aims to reduce the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years.

I grew up in a household that was virtually salt-free. My father suffered from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and back in the 80s the “fear of fat and salt” craze was going strong. My mother omitted adding salt to anything (though we were allowed to add it to our chicken and dumplings). But you know what? I didn’t miss it. Instead of salt, she used fresh and dry herbs to make dishes just as delicious. So when I started cooking in earnest, I was reluctant to put in the salt recipes called for. After awhile I got comfortable with using salt, and saw it’s mighty benefits (seasoning steaks and other meats for the grill, for example). But I also noticed that some recipes I was trying by celebrity chefs called for WAY too much salt. I used the amount they required, and just found it overwhelming. Instead of the natural flavors of the food shining through, all I could taste was salt.

And I wondered, is that because I was conditioned from an early age to not use salt? Or because it really was that salty? And then I started watching Anne Burrell’s show on the Food Network, “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.” I adore her, but have you ever seen her use salt? She dumps in whole handfuls when calling for a pinch! Even I can tell, without bias, that it’s way too much. But when most celebrity chefs on TV use that amount in everything they make, you start wondering who’s right. Is salt really as bad as they say? And if it is, why are so many chefs using so much of it? When these chefs truly cook for themselves and their families are they really using that much?

I’ve decided that much like everything in life, moderation is the key. If I don’t need it, I won’t add it. Sometimes I salt the water for my pasta, sometimes I don’t. And here’s something else to make you groan: According to this article sea salt is just as bad for you as regular salt. Hooray.


Kirsten Oliphant said... salt each chip when I'm at a mexican restaurant. So, I'm definitely going to die young, if studies are to be believed. I try not to go bananas in meals so I can let people salt to taste (though I feel like if it's good enough, they won't want to add anything!) but I am a total salt hound. Most people are made up of 2/3 water; I am 2/3 salt.

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