Shaking the salt

Is it too salty? Can you put something deliciously beckoning into your mouth and immediately tell whether it's overly salty or could use more sodium-enhanced flavor? The degree of saltiness in a particular food previously evaded me. Or, differently put, "I like salty-tasting food a lot."

My blood pressure and I are trying to move toward a more salt-free existence. I thought what I've discovered might be useful to others.

But first, let me share a personal story. Through adolescence and into adulthood (aw, shucks — until fairly recently), I thought my most indulgent food was butter. My dad used to say, "I think you'd better marry a dairy farmer." But in an inadvertent moment when I mistakenly slathered salt-free butter on my morning toast, I realized, "Aha, it's not the butter that attracts me, it's the salt."

Here's one idea that addresses both addictions. Combine salt-free butter and an equal amount of olive oil, then add a little potassium-based salt substitute. Quite lovely actually, especially when spread on crunchy, whole-grain toast with flaxseed.

Those salt substitutes can be a great idea for those of us wanting to initiate an "assault on salt" but they are not good for absolutely everyone, so it's wise to check with your health provider if you have kidney disease or are on a medication that causes potassium retention.

Salt should be a big deal for all of us entering our sixth decade. Research suggests reducing our salt intake by just 400 milligrams a day can notably affect the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. And in the process of eating less salt, we do our part to trim health care costs — a recent issue of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter suggests by up to a whopping $24 billion annually.

I've calculated that 400 mg of salt is two hearty shakes. I decided I can eliminate at least that much salt from my daily diet by taking that shaker off the table — make that out of the cupboard entirely — and by using the butter concoction above.

I have also vowed to eat fewer pickles, drink less tomato juice and totally defer on cottage cheese. Check for more ideas.

One more thought: I make a blend of garlic powder, dill and cumin that is quite yummy on veggies and meats.

Maybe I can even reduce my salt intake by a half-teaspoon (1,200 mg). Want to have a contest?

Ever heard of the National Salt Reduction Initiative? It's a coalition of cities, states and health organizations working to help food manufacturers and restaurants address their high-salt approaches. This coalition seems to feel quite sure it won't take a very big reduction in individual salt intake to see huge health gains.

We can shake it. Maybe it would help if we thought of this as our own personal mission to accomplish health care reform. You and me, salt-free.

And I wasn't kidding about the contest.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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