I love savory food as much as I like sweet food, and I dig the combo of the two. You may recall from my indulgences post how much I appreciate salted caramel gelato. I digress. There is nothing that I won’t enthusiastically add spice to and sodium is never a concern. If you’ve been following along for a while, you know I like to challenge conventional wisdom. Numerous dietary guidelines have, for eons, advised you to cut down your salt intake below a teaspoon a day. This is a guideline I feel totally content ignoring.
I’m not making a blind or reckless decision here. When it comes to salt, we’ve been fed a bland plate of lies regarding healthy sodium intake. From the New York Times:
In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.
I season my food, and I do so generously. When I grill salmon, bake chicken, scramble eggs or broil a steak, I have no issue grinding up and sprinkling sea salt over the top. I do so with only positively charged thoughts regarding the health implications of such a decision. The New York Times continues:
One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group.
You might be thinking that even if salt isn’t affirmatively harmful, it’s still better to be safe than sorry and reduce it in your diet. Unfortunately, low sodium levels have been linked to low insulin sensitivity, correlated with obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Humans evolved to taste and crave salt. These tastes help us to discern which foods in nature to consume in abundance and which are less beneficial from the perspective of nourishment. The savory component of our palate gives us an appreciation for briny foods because they are necessary for our survival. We naturally crave salt because our survival depends on it. From Chris Kesser:
Besides helping to maintain fluid balance and cardiovascular function, sodium and chloride ions also play an important role in the nervous system. Changes in the concentrations of these ions allow neurons to send signals to other neurons and cells, allowing for nerve transmission as well as mechanical movement. Chloride ions provided by salt are secreted in the gastric juice as hydrochloric acid (HCL). And HCL is vital to the digestion of food and the destruction of food-borne pathogens in the stomach.
One major reason I don’t stress the sodium in my food, even when I salt it generously, is that I bypass the processed, packaged, mass market convenience foods. Pick up a Big Mac and you’ll be consuming nearly 1,000 mg of sodium. Manufacturers are forced to add sodium (and trans fats, sugars and other additives) after the processing strips out all the nutrients and flavor. Replace your fast food hamburger with a rib eye steak, well-seasoned, and you’ll be consuming about 20% of the sodium.
Quite simply, your cooking will improve if you salt your food. Bitter compounds in food suppress sweet and sour flavors. Salt, in turn, suppresses bitterness. Adding salt allows the full range of notes to come through on your palate, enhancing the taste of your meal. Moreover, salt improves our perception of aromas in foods, so we think of them as tastier.
Here’s the confusing part. Walk into any healthier grocery store and you’ll find a rainbow of colors and consistencies of salt from every mountaintop and body of water on our spectacularly diverse planet. How’s a human supposed to choose? I’ll keep it simple for y’all. Stay far away from normal table salt. Instead, reach for sea salt. From SFGate:
Sea salt, which is obtained by evaporating seawater, contains essential minerals and nutrients that are removed from table salt during the refining process.
An important factor to remember is that you want your salt to have zero additives, such as aluminum compounds that are used to prevent caking.
Don’t stress the amounts you cook into your foods. Moderation is a theme of this blog and salt consumption is no different.
Sprinkling with you,