Plain old sodium chloride isn’t the only way to give your taste buds the salty kick they crave. Salt substitutes can do it, and they are a better option for most people. Herb and spice blends, lemon juice, as well as potassium-based salts, can perk up flavor and may offer an extra health benefit or two.
Herbs and Spices
Using herbs, spices, and other flavorings is a great way to season food. Not only do they offer a world of flavors beyond salt, there is growing evidence that myriad substances in herbs and spices may fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
You can certainly do this yourself, especially if you are comfortable in the kitchen. Experiment with fresh or dried garlic, oregano, pepper, sage, rosemary, or tarragon; bolder seasonings such as curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, or smoked paprika; tangy marinades, such as lemon juice, lime juice, or flavored vinegars; or fragrant oils, such as sesame oil, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or pumpkin seed oil. The Internet is full of recipes for herb-and-spice salt substitutes. You can also turn to several ready-made blends that are available in most grocery stores (see list). Lemon juice activates the same taste receptors as sodium, so adding a spritz of lemon to your food in place of salt makes biological sense.
Check out thesefrom The Culinary Institute of America that use herbs, spices, and other culinary techniques to boost flavor.
Reduced- or No-Sodium Salts
Potassium chloride tastes a lot like sodium chloride, and is the main ingredient in reduced- or no-salt substitutes. It has a bitter aftertaste, especially when heated, and so isn’t recommended for cooking. Some companies add L-lysine, a common amino acid, to mask or neutralize the bitter taste.
Sodium-free substitutes contain 100 percent potassium chloride, while “lite” salts replace up to half of the table salt with potassium chloride.
Because most Americans get too little potassium, using a potassium-based salt substitute could offer some small protection against high blood pressure, stroke, heart rhythm problems, kidney trouble, and even osteoporosis. (But not nearly as much as cutting back on sodium, not smoking, and exercising!)
Making the Change
Human taste buds are highly adaptable little organs. If yours demand salty foods, you can reprogram them by cutting back, one shake at a time. The taste buds aren’t sensitive enough to notice a reduction in salt of about 10 percent—and in many food-specific contexts, up to 25 percent. Beyond one-time opportunities to cut sodium levels in your food choices that won’t negatively impact the taste of your food, the next step is to make additional, gradual, steady reductions in the sodium levels in your food choices over months and years. Your taste buds will be happy with lower-salt fare introduced in this way, without the need to settle for bland-tasting food. As you cut back on salt, add in lemon and other citrus, pepper, vinegar, herbs and spices, and other sodium-free flavorings, or use a salt substitute as a bridge. Over time, you might rediscover the true flavor of food and the lovely, complex tastes that herbs and spices have to offer.
In Place of Salt
Try filling your salt shaker with a low- or no-sodium salt, or replace it with a shaker full of herbs and spices or a squeeze of lemon.
Low-Sodium Salts (contain potassium chloride and sodium chloride)
- Morton Lite Salt, 50% less sodium than table salt
- Diamond Crystal Salt Sense, 33% less sodium
No-Sodium Salts (contain potassium chloride)
- Morton Salt Substitute
Herb and Spice Blends
- Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Salt-Free Seasoning
- Salt-free Spike
- Mrs. Dash
- Benson’s Gourmet salt-free seasonings
- Penzeys salt-free spice blends
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.