It is an established medical fact that regularly ingesting high levels of salt increases the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. However, maintaining good heart health should not mean sacrificing flavour.
As a recommended daily allowance, adults should not consume any more than 6g of salt a day. Any food containing more than 1.5g of salt per 100g is considered to be high in salt.
Since salt is found naturally in many unprocessed foods – particularly some meats – as well as processed ones, using extra salt to season food can even push home cooking over this recommended threshold.
Luckily, there are many ways to create yummy, satisfying meals without using salt, and by relying on salt to heavily many of us are missing out on a whole delicious palette.
Below, we explore some healthy alternatives to salt, as well as the potential dangers of some salt substitutes, to help you live a tasty heart-healthy lifestyle.
Are salt substitutes safe?
Many salt substitutes on the market replace reduce the sodium contained within salt and instead increase the amount of potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. The weighting between the two is usually 1/3 sodium and 2/3 potassium.
Whilst this sounds like great news for those who have been encouraged to reduce their salt intake, the reality is rather more serious.
Salt substitutes should not be recommended to anybody on a salt-restricted diet. This includes those who have, or are at risk of developing a heart condition and those on blood pressure medication. It is also dangerous for anyone with kidney problems, where the increased intake of potassium can be fatal.
Whilst moderate use of salt substitutes should be fine for most people without these conditions, you should always consult with a doctor before making this culinary change to ensure you are not at risk.
The best option? Go salt free!
Herbs and spices
It’s time to stop shrugging off herbs and spices as expendable items on a recipe ingredient list, and start integrating them into everyday meals.
A whole range of flavour, texture, and vitamin content can be found in the jars pushed to the back of your kitchen cupboard.
What’s more, the good news is that convenience wins the day – dried herbs retain their nutritious value almost as much as their fresh counterparts.
It’s also incredibly simple to work herbs into more of your meals, proving you really don’t have to be a trained chef to use them properly.
- Basil – Add basil to fish, tomato and beef dishes, and start thinking of it as a salad leaf in its own right.
- Oregano – also great with tomato and pasta dishes, oregano can immediately liven up any sauce.
- Sage – sage is famously found in Italian cooking. Try adding it to meat before grilling or roasting.
- Rosemary – this herb is great when added to egg and vegetable dishes, potatoes, grilled meats, mushrooms and tomatoes.
- Thyme – commonly paired with rosemary, thyme this is a great all-round seasoning herb. Add a woody flavour to your potatoes or to bean, egg and vegetable dishes.
- Parsley – try adding some chopped parsley to salads, pasta dishes, fish and meats, and potatoes.
- Cumin – cumin can add a smoky flavour to your cooking. It’s found in Mexican, North American, Middle Eastern, Indian and North African cooking, so you’re really spoilt for choice of when to use it.
- Cinnamon – cinnamon is a natural sweetener used in cooking all around the world. Add it to sweet and savoury dishes for a richer, warmer flavour.
- Pepper – pepper has many varieties, from black and white to green and pink, and packs a powerful punch. Add pepper to almost any savoury dish for an instant flavour kick.
- Cayenne Pepper – cayenne is made from dried red chili peppers and its spicy is guaranteed to inject life and warmth into any dish. It goes well with nearly every meat, so see what works for you.
- Ginger – this root spice is traditionally associated with Eastern cooking, but can bring instant warmth to many dishes. Try adding ginger when cooking meat and soups, and mix with salads for an added flavour twang. It pairs particularly well with orange juice and cinnamon, and can transform fish dishes.
- Nutmeg – add a small amount of this powerful spice to egg dishes, quiche, sauces, soups and even on to porridge and breakfast cereals for a sweeter taste.
Other healthy alternatives to salt
Whether sweet or more acerbic, vinegars add a kick into any meal and their acidity actually mimics the tongue’s reaction to the taste of salt. Add it to sauces, marinades, dressings, as well as vegetables you’re going to roast in the oven.
Again, acidity can really lift a meal, but citrus fruits offer a lighter, crisper taste than syrupy vinegars. Try squeezing a lemon, orange or even grapefruit over salads, seafood and marinades. Lemon is a particularly versatile fruit and is one of the most vitamin-rich.
Punchy fruit and vegetables
Adding garlic, chilli, and onions to most dishes immediately boosts the flavour. What’s more, they bring a whole host of heath benefits. For instance, a chili pepper can contain up to seven times the amount of vitamin C as an orange.
Cooking with wine is a great way of boosting the flavour of a dish whilst also cutting back on cooking fats and oils. It’s highly versatile and can be used to help cook and simmer foods, as an ingredient for a sauce or gravy, or as a marinade for meats and vegetables.
Try sautéing or poaching food with wine, drizzling a little over meats and vegetables before roasting, and soaking vegetables in a little wine before cooking. Add to soups, chili, pasta sauces and stews for a slight acidic edge.
Just be careful not to overdo it since many wines can contain a high sugar content.
Flavourings to avoid
Always check store-bought salad dressings and sauces for their salt content, which can often be excessive, and stay away from soy sauce.
Gravy, stock cubes, and broths are all big culprits for high salt content. Seasoning with herbs can be a good way of cutting down on extra salty sauces as well as cutting the calories these sauces can add to your meals.
Resist the urge to bury your food in a layer of grated cheese, and try and cut down on the halloumi and blue cheeses, which some sources have claimed to be saltier than seawater.
For more information on maintaining a healthy heart, visit our heart health homepage.