The U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled this week a potentially wide-ranging plan to gradually reduce the amount of salt consumed by Americans. It’s an effort to combat heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and other health problems that have reached near-epidemic proportions. Over-consumption of salt is believed to be a major cause of many of these serious medical problems in the U.S.
The FDA plan begins with an appeal for voluntary salt reductions from the food industry. But ultimately, the agency may move to regulate acceptable levels of sodium in food and beverages.
Scientists and public health advocacy groups applauded the FDA’s announcement, while some conservative political leaders denounced it as further government encroachment on personal freedom.
Institute of Medicine Urges Regulatory Action
The gradual pace of the FDA’s planâ€”with no immediate plans to issue regulationsâ€”was contrasted by a strongly-worded report released the same day by the Institute of Medicine, the health branch of the National Academy of Sciences. The institute stated that â€˜regulatory action is necessaryâ€™ because efforts to educate the public on the dangers of high salt intake and voluntary sodium reductions by the food industry have failed.
Let’s face it. Most of us know we’re consuming too much salt in our diets. But with much of our sodium intake coming from processed foods, it’s hard to cut back. Americans have simply developed a taste for salty foods over the last few decades.
Tips for Cutting Back on Salt
There are ways to reduce your salt intake, and here are some, courtesy of Robin Miller, author of Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table
and eight other popular books.
Sauce Swap: Instead of prepared sauces, make your own. In a blender, combine roasted red peppers (home-made!), balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic, fresh parsley or basil, olive oil, and ground black pepper. Puree until smooth. Add water until you reach the desired consistency. The same sauce can be made with rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes. Thick sauces can be used over chicken, fish, pork, steak, and vegetables. Thinner sauces can be used in pasta and rice dishes.
Better Broth: Make home-made broths with the liquid from rehydrated wild mushrooms such as porcini and shiitake. Soak 1 ounce of dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for at least 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve to remove any debris and use the broth and mushrooms in your favorite dishes that call for chicken or beef stock (soups, stews, sauces).
Go Nuts: Before roasting, create â€˜crustsâ€™ for chicken, fish and pork by coating them with finely chopped, unsalted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and peanuts. As the food cooks, the nuts become golden brown, while adding incredible texture and flavor to the dish.
Vinegar In, Salt Out: Use intensely-flavored, aged vinegars in place of salt in sauces, dressings, marinades, and â€˜drizzlesâ€™ for steamed and roasted meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Aged balsamic vinegar is an excellent choice and when simmered over medium heat; you can reduce it down to a syrupy consistency (the perfect topping for chicken, fish, pork, steak, and vegetables). Watch out for â€˜seasonedâ€™ vinegars, they often have tons of sodium.
Try a Salt Sub: Keep a hearty stash of salt-free seasoning blends such as Mrs. Dash. Grab these instead of salt to truly enhance the flavor of sweet and savory dishes. For example, nutmeg brings out the cheese flavor in dishes made with cheese (casseroles, egg dishes, etc.). Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blend is an all-natural blend of 14 natural herbs and spices that can add a unique flavor to many dishes. In addition to their line of Seasoning Blends, which are both salt- and MSG- free, they also have 6 salt-free marinades including Spicy Teriyaki and Southwestern Chipotle.
Pantry Raid: Cardamom, cumin, curry, and cinnamon add warmth and depth. Oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, and garlic add robust flavor to Italian, Spanish and Greek dishes. Sage and tarragon add a wonderful floral quality to meat, fish and vegetable recipes. Start experimenting (when first starting, read the labels â€“ they often highlight the ideal food â€˜partnersâ€™ for the particular herb or spice!).
Secure Some Cedar: Roast chicken, beef, pork, fish, and vegetables on a cedar plank â€“ the plank adds a delicious and delicate smoky-sweetness to the food.
Peel Out: Just before serving, add the grated peel of lemons and/or limes to pasta, rice, fish, and vegetable dishes. The subtle tartness eliminates the need for salt!
Be Wary of Dairy!: Check out the dairy products in your fridge right now. Shocking how much sodium is in one slice of processed cheese, huh? Check all your dairy and cheese products (1/2 cup of cottage cheese has almost 500 mg of sodium!!), and opt for reduced-sodium versions when available.