Low Salt Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Introduction to a low salt diet
Let’s talk about salt…the white stuff we sprinkle over and into food to provide more flavour. But does it?
Initially when you reduce salt in your diet you may feel that food has less taste. This is because salt dulls your sense of taste – then you want more to make food taste better. So does this mean you develop a taste for salt and not the actual food?
However, when you reduce salt and your true tastebuds return, you will sense the real taste of foods, rich and vibrant on their own (provided they are fresh). Salt can make dull, boring, un-fresh foods ‘taste’ better, so cutting back on salt will encourage you to only use fresh produce.
Some foods seem quite inedible without salt, which makes you wonder if you should really eat that food. For example, how would hot potato chips taste without salt? Hint: a starchy, stodgy, boring vegetable with no taste and minimal nutrient content.
As your ‘salt-free’ palate refines, you may find that some of your food choices will change for the better and you are more likely to choose foods that have a higher nutrient density. Foods with bright vibrant colours are naturally tasty compared to a plain white potato.
By the way, I read an article about restaurants with poor acoustics, and how the high noise level distracts patrons from the flavours of the meals. Consequently, some chefs add more salt and spices to the food to compensate for the assault (a salt!) on the senses. And there is plenty of information about food scientists manipulating processed foods with salt and other additives to reach an optimum taste point to hook us onto their products.
When we talk about a low salt diet, for most people, this means a ‘no sodium salt’ diet. Sodium salt is thought to be a contributor to certain health conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or other cardiovascular related diseases. Other health conditions thought to be supported by a low salt diet include diabetes, kidney disease, stomach cancer, other cancers, intestinal dysfunctions, and cataracts.
By lowering salt consumption, some people report an improvement in energy, less fluid retention, and weight loss.
Does a low salt diet mean no added salt at all? Not necessarily.
Refined sea salt contains sodium chloride and is the one to avoid.
But there are salts such as Himalayan salt (pink) and Celtic salt (grey) that contain other minerals along with sodium salt. While they are healthier because they contain other minerals, they are still not acceptable for a low sodium salt diet.
Potassium and magnesium are classified as mineral salts and are good for us. Vegetable salts contain dehydrated vegetables and herbs and a certain amount of either sodium or potassium chloride salt (which means the vegie salts containing sodium are not suitable).
However, discuss with your doctor or naturopath to see if vegetable salts with potassium chloride are ok, and if so, make sure you check the label to ensure you are not consuming high sodium salt.
Alternatively, why not banish all salt for a while and regain your sense of good taste?
How to cut back salt but keep great flavour in foods
- The first thing to do is to avoid processed foods and pre-packaged foods, as they nearly all contain quite high levels of added salt. Home-made fresh foods are healthier, more nutritious and you get to control the amount of salt (and sugar).
- Taste your food before adding anything to it, as it may already taste pretty good from the cooking methods used, or other seasonings
- If you do feel your meal needs salt, especially if you are used to using a lot, then try a light sprinkle, or at least less than you are used to and gradually cut back. It’s like a weaning process.
- The use of seasonings like garlic, chives, lemon, or lime juice as well as herbs and spices, are a great way to add flavour without the need for salt.
- Some people are fine using other types of salts rather than sodium type salts, such as certain herb and vegetable salts that mix potassium chloride salt with herbs and spices or vegetable powders. Check with your practitioner.
- Not all salts are created equal, and your practitioner may suggest a good quality multi-mineral salt such as Himalayan or Celtic sea salt is perfectly fine. This will depend on your health condition being treated, so check with your practitioner first.
It is wise to taste food first, and only use small amounts if required (and if allowed). Generally, most recipes are rich in other flavours to need extra salt.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.