4 Ways to Add Flavor Without Adding Salt
This month we’re talking all about #TheScale. As you probably know, there are a number of factors that affect the scale and it’s really not the best method for tracking progress. Yes it’s one tool, but it doesn’t tell us how our body composition is changing (if we’re losing fat and building muscle the scale might not change at all, or it might even go up). And then there are factors that affect the scale day to day. Lack of sleep, stress, over training, or an excessive amount of sodium in your diet (which is what I want to discuss in this post) are all things that can cause the scale to jump. If you’ve ever gone out to eat and woke up the next day to see the scale went up a few pounds, you might have freaked out, or you may have accepted the fact that it was because you were retaining water from the excessive amount of salt that restaurants add to their food. Or maybe you were traveling and relied heavily on packaged processed foods. In order to preserve foods, companies load their products with sodium. Plus, salt’s delicious right? It brings out the flavor in food, but it’s also detrimental to our health if we’re consuming too much and not getting enough of the other electrolytes in our diet. Specifically potassium. In our modern diet we tend to consume an excessive amount of sodium and not nearly enough potassium.
Sodium and potassium play essential roles in our diet.
Some of these essential roles include:
The transmission of nerve impulses and the contraction of muscles
How our kidneys function
Energy production and fluid balance
If we’re consuming an excessive amount of sodium and not enough potassium it can cause:
Water retention (discussed further below)
Increased blood pressure
Muscle weakness and cramps
Nerve impulses are generated by pulling potassium into our cells and pushing sodium out of them. The charge that occurs also powers the contraction of our muscles. We need sodium and potassium in our diet to generate these functions, however, if we have a disproportionate amount, our nervous and muscular systems become compromised.
Why do we retain water when we consume too much sodium?
Our bodies require a delicate balance of electrolytes and they all work together to keep us functioning properly. When we consume excess sodium, our kidneys flush it out in our urine (along with potassium). If we have plenty of potassium (and water) in our diet, there isn’t as much of an issue. However, if our potassium levels are low, our bodies will try to hoard it, which means hanging onto the excess sodium. And since water follows sodium, the amount of water in our body increases. In short, if you’re consuming too much sodium, getting more potassium and water in your diet will help to balance things out and keep you from retaining so much water.
So how do I reduce sodium and increase potassium?
According to the USDA, the average American consumes 3,300mg of sodium and only 2,640mg of potassium per day. The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine recommends adults limit sodium intake to 2,300mg per day and consume 4,700mg of potassium.* You can reduce the amount of sodium in your diet and increase the amount of potassium by eating more whole foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, potatoes, beans, fish, unprocessed meats, yogurt, milk, unsalted nuts) and limiting the amount of processed and packaged foods in your diet. You can also control the amount of sodium in your diet by cooking more at home. Use the techniques below to add flavor to your food without the addition of salt.
*There are also cases where a person would need to consume more sodium (and potassium). If you’re sweating a lot (athletes or people who live in hotter climates), not only should you consume more water, but you need to replenish the sodium and potassium you lose through sweat.
Herbs & Spices
There’s no better way to spice up a dish than with some herbs and spices. The combinations are limitless. Keep a stocked pantry and play around with different blends. Or buy pre blended spice mixes. Fresh herbs add a ton of flavor and you can make them last longer by placing them in a jar with water and leaving them on the counter. Even better, grow them on your window sill, your balcony, or in your garden so you always have access to them.
Onions & Garlic
Part of the allium family, which also includes shallots, scallions, and leeks, these pungent but delicious vegetables add a tremendous amount of flavor to almost any dish. I like to sauté onions and garlic in a pan before adding whatever else I’m making to really bring out their flavor.
Vinegar can really improve the flavor of a dish. The acid content and tangy flavor makes it a great marinade for meat and vegetables. It’s also great for making homemade sauces and condiments or as a salad dressing. Red wine vinegar is pretty versatile and can be used in many dishes, balsamic vinegar is great for marinades and salad dressings, cider vinegar is great for homemade condiments, and rice vinegar is great for Asian cooking and dipping sauces. I suggest trying different vinegars and varying amounts to see what you like best.
The acidity of citrus is a great companion for a lot of dishes. I like to pair it with vinegar when I’m making a marinade or a salad dressing. Or you can add a fresh squeeze of lemon, lime or orange to a dish when you’re finished preparing it. It adds a nice finishing flavor.