Be the salt of the earth this Thanksgiving and cook with less of it. Salt does have a vital role to play, as it helps to unlock the goodness in food proteins. Furthermore, salt aids microbial modulation in fermented products and regulates enzymatic activity. However, pretty much all foods already naturally contain salt (and sugar). Too much salt is unhealthy. With the ever-present threat of overeating at Thanksgiving, the last thing we should do is fail to limit salt intake. If we understand why we are adding salt perhaps it will help us to use less of it.
Thanksgiving Nutrition: Ways to Limit Salt?
Why do we add salt?
Our taste buds have become so used to tasting salt, that they have forgotten what food tastes like naturally. If we can’t taste salt, then we regard the food as tasteless. A damning indictment of our modern eating habits is that many of us automatically reach for the salt before we have even sampled the food. Our taste buds have been dumbed down and therefore struggle to appreciate natural flavors. It is thought that this condition is even worse for smokers.
We are in danger of paying the price for uneducated taste buds. By adding salt, we are putting our health at risk. Failing to limit salt intake increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and high blood pressure. We need to re-school our taste buds and bodies to accept that the WHO dietary guidelines recommend a daily dose of 5 grams per day of sodium chloride (salt) for adults.
If only it was as simple as running out of salt at home and simply not replacing it. It takes between 21 to 28 days to adopt or change a habit. Use the remaining time left in the run-up to Thanksgiving to limit your sodium intake. It’s critical to educate while changing the behavior.
Start by discussing, over dinner, what the medical risks associated with overusing salt are. Educate the family as to what the daily recommended allowance is and physically show them. Then ask them to think about how much salt they use in a day. It’s important to let the salt penny drop just as it is with sugar.
As a family, come up with a weekly salt intake challenge that has a reward (not candy, soda, or chocolate). Make a poster and have it on display. This is a great way to keep the challenge top of mind and motivate younger family members. It’s all about reinforcement. Hold the challenge a couple of times during the lead-up to Thanksgiving.
Another good idea is to challenge a family member to research the amount of sodium per serving in the food for Thanksgiving dinner. Have the family member then present this information to the family. Reward them with extra credits on the family challenge (like maybe not having to wash the dishes that night).
Here are a few salt substitutes that offer better nutrition and more interesting flavors.
When cooking, add a pungent flavor without increasing sodium. A small amount of garlic is great for roasting chicken and turkey. Garlic boosts immunity, promotes brain health, and also lowers blood pressure.
Lemon juice or lime zest
These naturally acidic salt alternatives add citric flavors. Dribble it over vegetables and salads. They both can also be used as a meat and fish marinade.
Ground black pepper
Black pepper is thought to decrease inflammation linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. For a change of pepper try peppercorn mixes, chili pepper, cayenne, and reduced-sodium jalapenos peppers.
Fresh dill with hints of celery and fennel is a great flavor-alternative for potatoes and fish. Not to mention, dill pairs very well with lemon juice.
Dried onion or onion powder
Onion gives a flavor boost to most savory dishes. For a different flavor, buy fresh red onions.
The spicy, smoky taste of smoked paprika is also a low sodium alternative for meat, chili, and stews. The paprika compound Capsaicin may stop cancer cell growth.
A drop of truffle oil on vegetables and potatoes is a healthier alternative to salt. Truffle oil is also good on eggs, pizza and pasta.
Rosemary is a classic herb for roasts, roasted vegetables, stews, and soups. It is great for dressings as well.
Fill up the salt shaker with rice to limit your salt intake. This will then require lots of shaking for the salt to come out. Only the most ardent salt-love-cum-salt-addict will persist. Your family is sure to give thanks to you this Thanksgiving for providing more nutritious, healthier, and interesting flavors.
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