How to Cut Salt Without Cutting Flavor

Three Parts:Adding Flavor Without SaltDecreasing Salt in Your DietLimiting High Sodium Foods

Following a low or reduced sodium diet can be beneficial for your health. Studies have shown that following a high sodium diet (with foods that contain a lot of salt) can increase your risk for high blood pressure.[1] Living with high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke which are some of the top causes of death in the United States.[2] Cutting out the salt from your diet may decrease your risk for high blood pressure, but may leave you with bland tasting foods. However, If you incorporate a few culinary tricks, you can cut the salt and keep your foods full of flavor.

Part 1
Adding Flavor Without Salt

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    Sprinkle your foods with acidic flavors. A chef-inspired trick, drizzling foods with citrus juice or vinegar can help bring out and brighten the flavors of food without adding salt.[3]
    • Acids help stimulate your taste buds and bring out the "savoriness" that's inherent in many foods. It's best to drizzle foods at the end of cooking so you don't cook out the bright flavor of the citrus juice or vinegar.
    • Also utilize the zest of citrus fruits. The zest has a lot of essential oils and a tremendous amount of flavor. Sprinkle foods and dishes with the zest in addition to the juice of citrus fruits.[4]
    • Citrus juice, zest and vinegar are all naturally low in calories and completely sodium-free, so these are great additions to a reduced sodium diet.
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    Make it spicy. Like citrus juice and vinegar, another way to brighten up a dish without adding more salt is to give it a little kick with some spicy seasonings or peppers.
    • Whether you go with black pepper, red pepper flakes or even cayenne pepper, adding a spicy component to your foods can help stimulate your palate and distract your tongue from the missing salt.[5]
    • Try adding spices like: black pepper, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, chili pepper or hot paprika. In addition to spices, try cooking with spicy ingredients like: jalapenos, poblano chiles, banana peppers, hot cherry peppers or even serrano peppers.
    • Plus, capsaicin, which is the "spicy" component of peppers, has been linked to decreased appetite and a healthier weight.[6]
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    Go for fresh and dried herbs. In addition to using more intense spices (like cayenne pepper), there are many herbs that you can utilize to make foods more flavorful without salt. You can do both fresh and dried herbs in your new low-sodium cooking.
    • Fresh herbs add a lot of flavor to foods - especially when they're added at the end of cooking. Dried herbs are great to add at the beginning of cooking and they're a more concentrated and intense source of flavor since they've been dried.[7]
    • Any herbs or spices you want to use are great. You can try green herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, tarragon or rosemary. Or you can try warmer spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or dried ginger.
    • There are also many no-salt added seasonings mixes and blends. You can use these if you want an easy flavoring blend.
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    Use aromatic foods. Like spices or acids (like vinegar or citrus juice), there are some aromatic foods and ingredients that add a lot of intense flavor to foods with no added salt. Start mixing some of these items into your meals.
    • Onions and shallots are very similar, cousins even, and add a lot of flavor when cooked into meals or even used raw.
    • Ginger and garlic are are pungent spices that offer a huge burst of flavor when cooked into meals or are used raw.
    • All of these aromatics add flavor to dishes. Consider cooking them into your dish and then adding a touch more just at the end of cooking for an even bigger hit of flavor.[8]
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    Cook with healthy fats. Another way to add more flavor to your foods is with fats. Fat adds a lot of flavor to foods - whether you cook with fat or your use higher fat foods (like salmon or tuna). Make sure to use healthier sources of fat so that you get the added heart benefits.
    • Flavor-carrying molecules dissolve in fat and can be distributed more evenly thorough out foods to give them more flavor.[9]
    • Cook with heart healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, peanut oil (or other nut oils) or even soybean oil.
    • Also cook foods that contain heart healthy fats like salmon, tuna, mackerel, nuts, or avocados. The fat from these foods can help make your whole dish taste more flavorful.[10]
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    Choose flavorful cooking methods. Many people focus on the ingredients of low sodium cooking by trying to find some way to replace the salt. However, choosing a flavorful method of cooking can also reduce the need for added salt in your meals.[11]
    • Some cooking methods, like poaching, boiling or steaming, don't impart all that much flavor to foods. If you're looking to increase the flavor profile of your meals, skip these types of cooking methods.
    • Roasting is a great cooking method that uses the high heat of the oven to cook foods. It helps caramelize and brown the outsides of the food leaving a crunchy, flavorful crust. In addition, it helps bring out the natural sweetness of vegetables and "savoriness" of proteins.[12]
    • Grilling is similar to roasting in that the high heat of the grill and the contact of the grill impart a smoky, savory flavor to foods.
    • Searing is another high heat cooking method you can do over the stove. The heat from the pan sears and caramelizes the outsides of proteins and vegetables for a crispy, flavorful crust.

Part 2
Decreasing Salt in Your Diet

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    Make foods from scratch. One of the easiest ways to cut out excess salt from your diet is by cooking foods from home and from scratch. You can stop using high sodium ingredients and seasonings and replace them with salt-free or reduced salt items.
    • When you make foods at home, you can control every ingredient that you use.[13] For example, if you're making homemade soup, you can choose salt-free broth and bump up the addition of herbs and spices to increase the flavor.
    • Eating at home also helps you control portion sizes. So even if you're foods are slightly higher in sodium, you can control how much you eat. A smaller portion will help reduce the total amount of sodium you consumed at that meal.[14]
    • Some ideas for low-sodium home cooking include: searing salmon in a hot pan over the stove and squeezing some fresh lemon juice on top; sprinkling a salt-free Mexican seasoning blend onto chicken breast and grilling them for fajitas; or making your own tomato sauce by sauteing garlic and onions together with fresh, seasonal tomatoes and finishing your sauce with fresh basil.
    • Keep practicing with your favorite seasonings. The more spices, herbs or seasonings you try, the more familiar you'll become with them and you'll find more combinations you enjoy.
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    Shop seasonally. Another way to reduce the sodium in your foods is by using seasonal, fresh ingredients. These foods require fewer seasonings, especially salt, because their flavor is more intense.
    • Most times you have the option of buying any type of fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. Whether it's in season locally doesn't matter since much of our produce is sourced from outside the state or from the West Coast.
    • However, foods that aren't ripe or have been picked early so they do not deteriorate before making it to the store shelves may be more bland and lacking in flavor. However seasonal and local foods are picked just at the peak of ripeness and will generally taste a lot better.[15]
    • Many grocery stores now have a seasonal section or a section of produce that has come from a local vendor or farm.
    • You may also want to consider going to your local farmers market for in season items. In addition, you may be able to find heirloom varieties here which can also have more flavor.
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    Don't salt foods while you cook. If you're cooking and making foods from home, it's probably natural for you to reach over and sprinkle a little salt in your meals while you're preparing them. But cutting out this habit is an easy way to cut the salt from your diet.
    • Many times, salting foods while they're cooking doesn't provide as much flavor as you're looking for (though it still adds all the extra sodium). Instead of salting while you're cooking, skip this step and only salt at the table when you're eating.
    • You're more likely to taste the salty flavor when the salt has been added directly the foods that you're eating in that moment (instead of while you're cooking). Lightly sprinkle your meals with salt and make sure to measure how much you're using.
    • If you do add salt while you cook, always measure out how much you're using. You're limited to a total of 2300 mg daily which is about 1 teaspoon total per day.[16]
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    Allow your palate to adjust. Whenever you make any type of change to your diet, it can be difficult to get used to it at first. This is especially true when you're decreasing a flavor enhancer like salt.
    • Studies have shown that your taste buds and palate can change and evolve over time. They key is to allow yourself adequate time to adjust your flavor preferences.[17]
    • In addition, make changes more slowly overtime. If you cut out every source of salt or sodium from your diet all at once, this is more of a shock to your mouth. Plan to decrease your sodium intake little by little instead of all at once.
    • After a few weeks of following a lower sodium diet, you won't really notice a difference in your foods. In fact, many people, when tasting previously enjoyed foods, begin to think they are too salty and dislike that flavor.

Part 3
Limiting High Sodium Foods

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    Limit fast food or fried foods. Sodium is present in other foods outside of our salt shaker at home. Be careful when you're eating out - especially at fast food restaurants - as the foods served are generally higher in sodium.
    • Many fast food restaurants served fried foods, processed foods and they even will add salt to these already salty foods. Limit or avoid these types of restaurants and foods to help limit your overall sodium intake.[18]
    • Prior to going to your favorite place, consider looking up the nutrition information online. Look over the serving sizes and sodium content of your favorite meals and try to pick items that are lower in sodium.
    • If you do enjoy the occasional burger or fries, consider making these foods from home. As stated, you can control the ingredients and the total amount of salt used. You'll get a homemade, reduced sodium version of your favorite items.
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    Avoid processed meats. Another common source of sodium in many American's diet is processed meats.[19] They're quite common and have become a staple in many people's diets.
    • Processed meats can include foods like: hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meat, smoked meats, salami and canned meats.
    • These types of foods use salt not only as a flavoring but also as a preservative. The sodium content can get very high for these foods.
    • Instead, try low-sodium canned meats and fish, making your own deli meat by roasting chicken or turkey breast and slicing for sandwiches, purchasing all natural sausage or bacon and purchasing fresh or frozen unseasoned meat.
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    Go for "no salt" added canned foods. Most people know that canned items can be high in sodium. And they're correct - many canned foods are very high in sodium and should be limited or avoided if you're following a low-sodium diet.[20]
    • Canned soup is probably one of the top culprits of high sodium canned items. They can range from 100 mg to 940 mg of sodium per serving.[21] Make your own soup from scratch instead.
    • If you're purchasing canned vegetables or beans, look for cans that say "low sodium" or "no salt added." These will be your best bets.
    • However, if you cannot find an item that's low sodium or no salt added, rinse the foods thoroughly before using to help remove some of the excess salt.
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    Skip frozen dinners and entrees. If you're on-the-go and don't always have time to cook, you might be tempted to grab a frozen dinner. However, many of these frozen entrees are very high in sodium - even the "healthier" versions.[22]
    • Remember, salt is not only used as a flavoring, but also as a preservative which makes some of these frozen entrees higher in salt.
    • Make sure to read the food labels on these items. Many frozen dinners are marketed as "healthy" or "low calorie" but have a whole day's worth of sodium. So regardless of what you're buying, look at the sodium on the label.
    • A good tip to follow is to buy a frozen meal with less than 600 mg of sodium per meal or serving.[23]
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    Be wary of condiments. A tricky place that sodium frequently hides is in condiments, sauces and dressings. If you follow the portion size, the total sodium isn't all that bad. However, when you don't measure and use larger quantities, these salty sauces can really add up.[24]
    • The most common higher sodium items include: ketchup, salad dressings, hot sauce, soy sauce, tomato sauce and marinades.
    • Instead of these items, try making your own from scratch. You can also try looking for low-sodium versions of these at the store.
    • Also note that many low-fat or fat-free options - like fat-free salad dressings - have more sodium that the regular versions. Companies add the extra salt to make up for the decrease in calories.


  • If you're following a low-sodium diet, you may want to consider starting a food journal to track your total intake.
  • Start removing salt from your diet slowly and over a few weeks. This will help your taste buds adjust.
  • Also consider making more foods from home. This allows you to have some of your favorite foods but still comply with a low-sodium diet.

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating