Salt: Yes, I cook with it!
I have a love-hate relationship with salt (sodium). I’m a women’s health doctor. I want to promote healthy living. And, I know that too much sodium is not good for you. Too much is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Most women still don’t know that.
I cook with salt; I like it. Yet, I still struggle. Overall, we eat too much sodium. Why? Because processed & prepackaged foods contain too much and it is a mainstay in restaurant cooking. Most Americans have no idea how much salt they have daily (well over 3400mg of sodium on average) and how much we should have daily (ideally less than 1500mg of sodium per the American Heart Association (www.heart.org) , but even less than 2400mg daily would be a great place to start). To put it in perspective, one teaspoon of salt equals 2300mg of sodium!
My grandfather had heart disease. When I would visit my grandparents as a child – on an airplane! by myself! – my grandmother would lecture me on no-salt and low-salt diets. Foods that my Papa could eat; and foods that he must avoid (celery comes to mind) for his health and wellness. She set their dining room table each evening for dinner, placed two delicate silver salt and pepper shakers near the candelabra. Purely decoration; we never touched either.
Growing up, I only knew of one kind: Morton’s iodized table salt in the trusty blue canister. My mother always kept a canister of it tucked up in the cupboard on the second shelf, hidden behind the spices. I think she still does. Perhaps because her father had heart disease, I don’t know, but the canister sat there forlorn and half empty. I don’t think my mother has ever added salt to anything. Maybe the contents have expired; I am afraid to turn the canister over and check the date.
When I was dating the man I would later marry, I felt right at home early on in my future mother-in-law’s kitchen when I found the same blue canister in the corresponding cupboard. Maybe it’s the universal sign for moms.
I have cooked with different varieties of salt, such as kosher salt, both coarse and fine grain. I experimented with fine sea salt. Also, I have tried Himalayan sea salt; and most recently, I picked up large flaked salt with flecks of local, dried olives that we brought home from San Sebastian, Spain. All delicious, but more often than not, I return to my trusty blue canister.
I love to use sea salt when I want to play chef, when I am ‘finishing’ a dish, when I am making a homemade salad dressing. But for baking, this coarse variety does not make the cut. Also, I’ve learned that not all salts are the same. Different brands are denser than others. This requires variations in the amount used, not necessarily just what’s stated in the recipe. Alas, that uncertainty unnerves me. I am all for approximating an amount of an ingredient, but I want to do that of my own accord, and not because the recipe might have actually been formulated with a different brand/product in mind. That’s too stressful for me and runs counter to my desire to keep it simple.
I have also tried fleur de sel. It had looked so pretty in the little jar on the shelf in my favorite food shop. I had bought some as a gift. Then thought, why not? Why not try it myself? It didn’t work when baking I found. I found it worked instead when finishing off a dish, like a special touch; like the gift that it is.
Food is medicine. I believe this to my core. So although I will keep using in salt in my home cooking, mostly likely from the blue canister since this is iodized and therefore a quick way to get iodine, I will also continue to cut down on processed and packaged foods for so many reasons. Including the fact that they are loaded with salt is just one more reason. I will still cook with salt, just not too much, but enough.
Remember, moderation, not deprivation, is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
This post first appeared in SuperfoodSuperLife.com