Salt is not the enemy

Salt is not the enemy

Who is still afraid of salt?

I often get questions about using salt in cooking. 

Is it good? Is it bad? Is it necessary?

It's one of my bugbear subjects, so it's high time I wrote a blog about it!


Unravelling the Misconception

Everybody blames foods 'high in fat and salt' for all of our health evils.

But there's a small detail that most people don't notice when pointing their fingers: the foods that are, indeed, unreasonably high in fat and salt are almost exclusively ultra-processed foods (the stuff made in factories and you buy in packets, also known as UPF) and NOT homecooked food.

Fact is, salt and fat (along with acid, sweet and heat) are the main factors that bring out flavour in our food.

Chef and writer Samin Nosrat beautifully explains these principles in her book 'Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat' (and I write more about these flavour basics here).

So adding a bit of salt and oil (to taste) to your food as it cooks is really important to make your flavours sing.

Indeed, as most chefs will tell you, the most common 'culinary crime' perpetrated in the kitchen is failing to add enough salt.


Fresh Ingredients Sing Their Own Tunes

But here's the thing: If you are cooking with flavourful ingredients, like fresh seasonal veggies, you will need just a little bit of a boost - a pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil - to get those flavours to shine.

On the other hand, ultra-processed foods are made from the ever same tasteless components that would taste like cardboard if not loaded with excessive amounts of salt and fat, as well as artificial flavourings.


The Shocking Statistics

And guess what: The data reveals a surprising truth about our sodium intake patterns. In the UK alone, over 60% of average daily salt intake comes from processed foods! 

Astonishingly enough, only around 18% originates from 'discretionary' sources such as salt added during cooking or at the table.

Quite a staggering revelation!


salt statistics


Salt is not the enemy

I find it misleading that the public conversation always revolves around avoiding salt at home, which inevitably leads to bland and tasteless meals.

Which feeds our perception of home-cooked food as forever boring while processed foods continue to deceive our senses as the super yummy stuff you can't stop eating and can't get anywhere else except from that branded packet.

The data is very clear: the most effective way of reducing your intake of salt by far, is cutting down on processed foods and taking control of our own cooking.

There is no need to avoid salt when cooking at home.


Science moves faster than public awareness

Keep in mind that nutrition science and medicine are constantly evolving fields.

New insights take time to filter down into mainstream recommendations (the data says as long as 17 years!). 

More recent research suggests that sugar might play a more significant role than salt when it comes to negative health effects.

Salt is hugely important for the body's most basic functions, as it regulates what goes in; and out every single cell.

If sodium falls fall too low, there can be serious consequences such as collapse or even death (my mum recently ended up on a sodium drip in hospital, turns out her medication was depleting her body's sodium levels...)

Also, consider this 'common sense' observation: before fridges and freezers became commonplace, people consumed a lot more salt through eating cured and fermented foods, yet the epidemic of chronic disease, including high blood pressure is a recent phenomenon.


The Missing Minerals

The body has a remarkable system for excreting excess sodium via urine, but there is no such mechanism for sugar. 

The body tightly regulates sodium levels by balancing it with other minerals like magnesium and potassium. If we are short of these minerals, then the balance falls towards 'too much' sodium, when really, we are missing enough magnesium and potassium.

Fresh foods, especially vegetables abundant in magnesium and potassium, can help restore this delicate balance. Unfortunately, diets rich in processed foods usually lack these vital nutrients.

Also keep in mind that table salt has been refined to only contain 'purified' sodium chloride (along with additives), while natural salts like unrefined sea salt, kosher salt or Himalayan pink salt contain additional minerals that help balance sodium in the body.


Trust your Taste

So please do yourself a favour and keep the salt pot in your kitchen.

You deserve to cook and eat tasty food!

Always 'salt to taste' - we all have our own perception of what is enough, and what is too much.

Add a little at a time, and keep tasting.

You are aiming for 'salted' not 'salty' - you want to taste the flavours coming alive, not buried in too much salt.

You'll know it when you taste it - trust your instincts!



PS. In my Effortless Cooking Workshop I walk you though a simple fun 'taste exercise' to help you experience the impact of salt on flavour, without the fear of ruining your dinner.

Categories: (RE)THINK


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