Over the Salt

Mindful choices for healthy and low sodium cooking


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How much is too much salt?

SaltShakerWe say there’s too much salt in prepared food, but how much is too much? For a person who has had a heart attack, a low salt diet is one where there is a maximum of 1500-2000mg of salt a day. For context, a teaspoon is about 2300mg of salt.

What surprised me most, I think, is that we thought we were eating healthy food. Organic soups (canned), vegetarian dishes from our favorite Thai, Indian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants were frequent visitors to our table, especially during busy weekdays. However, we’ve since realized that those delicious recipes had terrible loads of harmful salt in them. Canned chili was 920mg a serving, however, that was counted as 2 servings per can; a single can was 1840mg of salt. A jar of curry sauce says 400mg per serving, which sounds great until you read more closely, and realize the small jar has 6 or 8 servings per jar. Corn bread is 200mg a 2″ square, a slice of bread can be up to 400mg a slice, and a slice of pie between 200mg and 400mg depending on the number of servings you cut.

We have turned into much more careful readers. We examine every label to figure the amount of servings and divide to find the actual numbers per container. As we’re doing the math with the very real consideration of avoiding another heart attack, theres some pressure to pay attention. Very early we determined that a main meal can have a maximum of 500mg, and we would stay below the 1000mg as a total per day most days. That’s turned out to be a good thing, both for Raven (who had the heart attack) and for me (who has dropped a bunch of pounds water weight).

Salt retains water. Reducing salt, reduces water weight gain. The body does not have to work so hard to deal with the extra water. And the heart, which is a pump, needs to work less hard to pump that water around. Seems simple enough. In a person with a healthy heart, less water means more energy, and less weight.

What I’ve learned from this? There’s too much hidden salt in mystery food, so we’ll take the mystery out of it and cook our own food. Much of it will have no salt at all, and is “free food”, that is free from salt. To make it tasty, we add spices, balance the flavors and eat fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance. Baking our own goodies is a fun way to add love to the process.

I still have my artisan salts from the Murray River, Tibetan Pink, Salish Black and Hawaiian salts. I use them occasionally as a finishing touch for dishes, but only a few grains at a time. We’ve learned that we can have a little of anything we crave, and feel grateful that life and love continues to be rich and flavorful.

Article copyright Ria Loader 2013

Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com


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Divine Date Loaf

Date Loaf

Date Loaf warm from the oven

We all have foods that invoke those halcyon days of our youth, warm comfort food that we ‘go to’ to make bad days better. Date loaf is one such food for my sister Ria, and in the past months all she wanted was some Date Loaf like we used to eat when we were kids. This recipe has been reverse engineered from memories of what it should taste like. When made using low sodium baking powder and sweet butter each slice averages 100mg sodium.

For the best results there are a couple of things to do first.

Date mix

Date mix

Step One: the flavour is better if you can soak the dates overnight in the water and molasses. If you dont have time  the day before – boil the water and pour over the chopped dates, place in freezer until cool (about 1 hour) use this time to do step 2.

Step Two: Sift General purpose (plain flour) with the low sodium baking powder 6 times using a large strainer or sieve.

Step Three: Preheat oven to 375F or 180C then grease and line the base of your loaf pans.

Mixing the cake

Butter,sugar,date loaf

Cream the butter and sugar with a fork, add eggs and stir till mixed

date, flour, date loaf

Add 1/3 date mix and sieved flour to butter/sugar/eggs, stir until a batter, continue to add dates & flour till all mixed in, stir 3mins for good measure

Cake Batter

pour finished batter into prepared loaf tins. Cook 25 – 45 mins till cake springs back when lightly touched

Ingredients: Measurements in imperial and (metric)

  • 3 cups General Purpose Flour (Plain)
  • 6 level teaspoons Low Sodium Baking Powder (less than 450mg/tsp)
  • 2 Sticks sweet butter (225gm unsalted butter)
    you cannot use margarine for this recipe as it

    contains too much salt
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • ½ cup Date Sugar
  • 1/3 cup Molasses
  • 4 Eggs (large/70gms per egg)
  • 12 oz Chopped Dates (400gm)
  • Water (enough to cover dates in a measuring cup to 800ml total volume)

Photos and recipe copyright by Colleen (tummyluv) in Ria’s kitchen.


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Eating foods in season

strawberries with curried cashews - snack

Strawberries + Curried Cashews

I love the idea that we live in a time when we can get any produce at any time, at least hypothetically. Yet recently, I’ve come to notice that foods that are forced to grow out of season just don’t taste as good. The out-of-season foods may be uniform in size and shape, and they are made to pack and travel well; that makes them reliable in a sense. Yet what is missing, for me, is the concentrated flavor and organic variation that makes the food visually and aesthetically pleasing. As an artist, I cannot imagine wanting to draw a perfect apple or raspberry; that would make for an artificial-looking image composition at best, more like wax than something edible. Apparently my taste buds feel the same way!

Lately, I’ve been making fresh fruit snacks from whatever fruit is in season, usually from local growers. Organic is a preference, where available, though a good wash removes most of the chemicals. I choose fruit that is just at, or nearly past, its peak, firm but starting to get a little soft. Ready to eat today or tomorrow is my general rule, and it has to be “smelly”, that is to say ripe. If there is no scent to the food, then I walk away. From May onwards, local farmers markets are opening in school parking lots and community centers, and that’s my favorite place to shop for fresh produce. It’s always good to learn something new from the grower, and the sensory experience of seeing the food and being amongst community members makes me feel connected. Being in the moment, and noticing what my body wants to eat is also part of the experience.

Balances of sweet and savory appeal to me most, things like pears with curry cashews and chopped dates, pistachios sprinkled over nectarines, accompanied by a sharp cheese (Beecher’s Flagship), some pickled onions, snappy crackers (Ritz baked). Here are some snacks I’ve enjoyed from March through May in Seattle.

pear and honey cashews

Pear + Honey Cashews

mango and strawberries

Mango Strawberry Parfait

strawberry and nectarine with dates

Strawberry Nectarine + Dates


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Over the Salt

Salt in various forms - image by frenchbyte from morguefile.comLet’s face it. There is too much salt in canned food, packaged food, and snacks. Gone are the days when salt was a rare condiment, when sitting “above the salt” indicated wealth or prestige. Now we’re in a world where salt is used as a preservative as much as a flavor enhancer. Sometimes, the amount of salt in recipes is too much for good health. Nowadays, I use much less salt in cooking, and when I do use it, I do so mindfully.

When my spouse had heart failure a few months back, a low salt diet became necessary for his recovery. Otherwise, he would have too much fluid build up in his body and lungs, and that would be what I’d call a very bad thing. When I took a look at the pantry, almost all the food had to go. Soups? Out. Frozen dinners? Gone. Breads? Only a few brands would work. Mystery food from restaurants? Gone forever. Needless to say, this prompted a re-evaluation of what constituted health food. It also meant an urgent call to my sister, Colleen, to provide recipe help. As a chef, I was sure she would have the scoop on approaches to take. I also asked my extended social networks, in person and online for suggestions.

I experimented with sauces, spices and snacks made from fresh ingredients. By reading all the labels, it was even possible to find brands that were okay to use as part of recipes. When my sister came to visit for a few weeks from Sydney this spring, we had a lot of fun finding recipes that could work as-is or be adapted. We’ve decided to share those here, and continue experimenting together as a Sydney to Seattle collaboration. We hope that others will join us in trying low salt, savory dishes that taste delicious.