Two weeks ago the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that found cutting back on the salt in our diets has the potential to prevent 32,000 strokes, 54,000 heart attacks and 60,000 cases of heart disease a year. This Valentine’s day the best thing you can do for your heart is cut the salt. But does that mean your candlelit dinner is destined to be bland?
Not at all! Cooking your own food from scratch is the most effective way to eat less salt without sacrificing flavor. The USDA recommends Americans consume no more than 2300 milligrams of salt per day, which translates to approximately one teaspoon of table salt. But that doesn’t mean you get to shake a teaspoon of salt on your food everyday. 80% of the average American’s sodium intake comes already cooked into processed foods. Two tablespoons of store bought Italian salad dressing already has 18% of your daily recommended salt, so why not try making your own?
Food cooked from scratch doesn’t need the extra salt that’s added to processed food so it can sit in the grocery store for weeks on end without going bad. In the comfort of your own kitchen you can control everything that goes into what you consume. When shopping for ingredients, try to buy whole foods that are fresh, dried or frozen. Canned foods, especially pre-made soups, are notoriously high in sodium, so should be used sparingly.
Although our tongues have grown accustomed to today’s salt heavy fare, after you cut back for a few weeks you’ll adjust to feel the full flavor. As you begin to cut back, there are several ways to trick your taste buds to enact sensations similar to salty foods. While cooking, try emphasizing a contrast of flavors by using pepper, citrus and fresh herbs liberally. If a recipe calls for breadcrumbs, try dry oats instead to add that crunch without the sodium. Experiment with new cooking methods, like sweating vegetables or cooking with a clay pot. These techniques allow the foods to roast in their own juices, adding flavor without any additional salt.
Cutting back on sodium is really just a matter of breaking out of our salty standard and trying new things. What better time to experiment then when you’re surrounded by those you love? This Valentine’s day expand your culinary repertoire, expand your taste buds and expand your life. Your heart, and your honey’s heart, will thank you.