February 5, 2021
Low-sodium cooking is part of a heart-healthy diet, and is a source of many questions I receive.
I spoke with Cheryl Herold, a registered dietitian from LG Health’s Community Health & Wellness team, to find out how sodium affects the body, for better and for worse.
Sodium is an important electrolyte in our bodies and plays a role in nerve and muscle function. It is essential for health but should only be consumed in the proper amount.
“A safe, heart-healthy sodium intake should be no more than 2,000 mg per day,” Herold said.
Sodium is found in almost everything we eat and drink, so it’s no surprise that the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg per day.
Excess sodium is linked to water retention (have you ever woken up feeling puffy from too much salty food the day before?) and can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
How to Add Flavor, Not Salt
Cooking at home is a great way to reduce sodium in your diet, since most sodium comes from packaged or prepared foods. Look at nutrition labels carefully when choosing packaged ingredients, and opt for whole foods when possible.
Another way to reduce your intake is to use seasonings and cooking techniques that enhance flavor in other ways. Here are 10 to try:
- Roast or caramelize vegetables for more intense flavors
- Squeeze or zest citrus fruits like lemon, lime and orange, for pops of flavor
- Drizzle balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch (reducing it makes it thicker and mellows the flavor)
- Boost flavor with aromatic ingredients like garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions
- Stir in fresh herbs like basil and chives, which are more flavorful than dried
- Experiment with salt-free seasoning blends—buy or make your own
- Add a small amount of dried fruit to recipes, like chopped dates, unsweetened cranberries and raisins
- Swap hot sauce with fresh hot peppers or dried red pepper flakes
- Rinse and drain canned beans and vegetables before using
- Try spices with strong flavors, like cumin, curry, smoked paprika and chili powder
In my recipe for Smoked Paprika Chicken, I challenged myself to create flavor without adding salt. The result is truly tasty and naturally low in sodium. Serve it with a fresh green salad or your favorite vegetables, and finish with a bowl of berries for a meal that is heart-healthy and delicious. Watch my video to get the recipe and learn how to make it yourself.