10 ways to cut the salt on menus

Flavorful food can be achieved with low- and no-sodium ingredients.

low sodium foodservice
Photograph: Shutterstock

From Furmano's.

Although salt often gets a bad reputation in the health and nutrition industry, a small amount of the nutrient is necessary for proper body functioning. It’s an essential mineral the body uses to control blood pressure, help muscles and nerves work properly and balance fluids. However, it’s important for consumers to watch sodium intake, because some studies have shown that it may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

One group of people who are at high risk for too much sodium intake are elderly consumers, as the ability to taste properly can affect people starting in their 60s. As a result, seniors may tend to use too much sodium to compensate for the loss of taste and to add flavor. Healthcare operators are then presented with a challenge to serve not only healthy food that’s low in sodium, but also food that’s flavorful.

Making low-sodium food craveable

Morningside, a retirement community in Fullerton, Calif., serves more than 300 entrees within its cooking cycle in its main dining room. The menu changes every day, with five new and different entrees that include beef, poultry, lamb and fish recipes. An additional casual-dining area has a menu featuring approximately 50 regularly available items (not on rotation), such as burgers, deli sandwiches, pizzas, salads and more.

Morningside residents dine out almost every day at one of the onsite dining outlets, so monitoring sodium intake is a daily kitchen activity. “Our residents want lower sodium meals mainly for health reasons, because they’re being told by a healthcare professional they need a low-sodium diet,” says Shawn Noack, director of food and beverage at Morningside.

With less salt, seniors can taste food’s natural flavor, especially when operators use cooking techniques and flavorful ingredients. “You need the food to taste great and pop, but at the same time operators can’t pump it full of salt,” says Noack, “so chefs need to be creative and use alternatives ingredients to add flavor.”

Amping up the flavor with these 10 sodium substitutes

Studies show when people follow a lower-sodium diet, they start to prefer it. What’s more, items they used to enjoy can begin to taste too salty. Try out these 10 ideas for reducing or eliminating sodium without losing the flavor in foods.

  1. Eliminate salt shakers from dining room tables. Simply by making them less visible, diners may naturally cut back.
  2. Choose low- or no-sodium packaged and canned goods, and rinse all other canned foods, such as beans, with water before preparing or eating.
  3. Use canned products made with lower sodium, which can reduce sodium content in a dish by 50% or more.
  4. When a recipe calls for even a pinch of salt, replace it with dry or fresh herbs or spices. Options such as chili powder, cilantro, coriander, cumin, curry powder, dill, dry mustard, garlic powder, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, tarragon or thyme are all excellent options, depending on what’s being prepared.
  5. Replace salted butter with unsalted butter, which is an easy fix for baking and other cooking preparations.
  6. Incorporate foods with potassium such as bananas, cantaloupe, greens, kidney beans, nonfat yogurt, oranges, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, lower-sodium tomato sauce and white beans. Potassium is said to balance the negative effects of salt.
  7. Marinate chicken breasts or pork chops in orange juice, lemon juice or wine, instead of options such as pickle brine, Italian salad dressing or saltwater.
  8. Bake fish with slices of lemon instead of in a crust of salt.
  9. Spice up beef with a mixture of onion, peppers, sage and thyme.
  10. Simmer carrots in cinnamon and nutmeg, add a dash of chili powder to corn or sprinkle dill and parsley onto potatoes before roasting.

With these no-sodium or lower-sodium options, food is still packed with delicious flavors, but diners can worry less about their salt intake.

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