I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that most of us who are wandering in the wilderness of middle age dread the day when our doctor tells us our little wild time of eating unrestrained amounts of fat/salt/sugar is over and done with. For us, for my husband really, the call came about two years ago: No more salt for you!
We used to joke about the two of us loving salt so much that we had a salt lick put in our living room. I changed the joke to say that we cried the day they came to take the salt lick away. And when I say no salt, I mean strict orders to keep the total intake to 1000mg per day. The recommended daily allowance for adults is about 2200mg. Until I had to keep an eye on it, I didn’t know how much hidden salt was lurking in baked goods like bread (1 slice 110mg) and muffins (250-300mg). Tomato sauces vary wildly, with even canned tomatoes sometimes holding 400mg of salt for a half cup and so do canned veggies. As you can imagine, these items would add up in a hurry and they didn’t constitute much in a whole day’s worth of food. Canned soups and takeout pizza, Mexican or Chinese food was off the charts and so pretty much off limits. (When you are feeling bold, take a look at the salt content of the entries printed on the Chevy’s menu.) So what did we do? At first we stopped going to restaurants and I started cooking the majority of everything we ate from scratch. Our salt setback was the single biggest factor in starting me on the road to slower food.
Many baked goods that we take for granted are very high in sodium because of the leavening agents. Biscuits, which we love in our household, call for 4 teaspoons of baking powder; but if you look at the nutrition label the serving size is 1/8th of a teaspoon/65mg that adds up to 2050mg total. Divide that by twelve biscuits in a batch and you get 174mg for one biscuit – but there is still salt and cream of tartar and milk that contribute more salt. Seems like I was always multiplying or dividing by 4 or 8 when I started testing dishes for their sodium correctness. It got easier with time.
Usually in baking recipes my required teaspoons or ½ teaspoons of salt turned into scant dashes that, when I eventually stopped in curiosity to measure them, were something like a 16th of a teaspoon. Salt itself is 590 mg sodium per ¼ teaspoon. Soy sauce is not quite as salty as salt itself but it’s pretty close. I was already using low sodium soy sauce but even now that we are a little more relaxed and I am starting to make Chinese entrees I’ll water down a recipe that calls for 4 tablespoons of soy sauce to 3 tbsps. of the low sodium sauce cut with 1 tbsp water.
This is a big subject and I’ll be talking about it more, but I wanted to just mention the two or three biggest life-savers for me in the home kitchen as we tried to get used to eating less highly salted food. They are: 1) chicken stock 2) parmesan cheese and (I admit this a little reluctantly) 3) bacon. Now the latter two are salty stuff and your cardiologist (and possibly your rabbi) would slap you if you started slathering parmesan on everything instead of salt because it adds fat, but it is less salty than salt, and when sprinkled not too liberally on things it does really add back some taste. Bacon I might use as a garnish or baked potato topping now and then and some of the artisinal type bacons are lower in sodium. I feel no one can call me a salt nazi if I am not denying them bacon. Chicken stock helped to add saltiness to blander things like my from scratch tomato sauce.
The thing is, we all eat way too much salt. Because it’s just tossed in so many things, especially in restaurants and convenience foods, and we consume it without being aware of it. With our new regime of cutting back on salt – and I mostly walked the walk along with my husband – it didn’t take long for my palate to change. Now when I get served oversalted mashed potatoes or a salad with a house dressing that has 400 mg of salt in a tablespoon it really knocks my head back. I still like salted popcorn and French fries etc but they are a treat and I’m sure I’m salting them less than before. (For those who didn’t go looking up the Chevy’s entrees, here is a little list of the sodium content of menu items I used to order there, some of which I even chose because I thought they were sorta-healthy:
Original Fajita Nachos- Chicken, 1940mg per serving
Grilled Fajita Salad- Chicken, 1480mg
Santa Fe Chopped w/o dressing, 1950mg
Bowl of Homemade Tortilla Soup , 1180mg
Carnitas plate, 3710mg
Of course if you take into account that a portion is probably twice as big as it should be you could halve the shocking amount if you really left half of it on your plate. I do appreciate that Chevy’s publishes this right on their menus, even though in my case it was definitely bad for their business.
If I could give an award for the commercially available product that made me the happiest and saved my morale when it was low, it is Anna’s Marinara Sauce. It let me have a break when I needed it and wished I could order a pizza but couldn’t. It has a miniscule 10mg of salt per half cup serving and is delicious. They don’t have a website, but what I can supply is this story from a neighborhood newsletter about the owner/creator of the sauces, Vince Rivieccio.
For those who love the local pizza place Gaspare’s, the man who created this sauce is the son of the proprietor of Vince’s Pizzeria, which according to the article established classic pizza at that same site on Geary Blvd. I’m fortunate in that I can pickup this sauce next door at the 6001 California Market. They will also sell you a bottle of Anna’s Marinara at the Bellagio in Los Vegas for $16.99. At least that’s what it went for in 2002. At my market it is $3.99.
I will have to write Mr. Rivieccio a letter at his p.o. box in SF, as listed on the bottle, to let him know my gratitude. Now that’s old school!