Nutrition Articles

6 Ways to Flavor Dishes Without Salt

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Classic French cooking uses three main ingredients to flavor food: salt, sugar and butter. According to the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans, these are exactly the foods—added sugar, sodium and saturated fat—that most Americans eat too often.

One of the toughest ingredients to give up is salt, especially if your palate is used to salty food. While the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern, it’s easy to go overboard since many common pantry ingredients, including canned foods, broths and salty snacks, contain salt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of the sodium we eat daily comes from foods like bread and rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and soups. Eating too much sodium can become an issue for the kidneys, which can lead to a variety of health concerns including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Luckily, the salt shaker doesn't have to be your go-to kitchen tool for much longer. It is possible to prepare delicious dishes without relying on mountains of added salt. Add these six simple swaps to your cooking arsenal to cut down on your salt intake without losing any flavor.

6 Simple Salt Swaps


1. Alcohol

Beer, wine and liquor flavor dishes beautifully. Plus, some of the alcohol (and the calories) dissipate off depending on the amount of heat and how long the food cooks. Use a longer cook time and higher heat setting to eliminate more calories, while ensuring the flavor remains intact. Try adding a lager to a slow cooker chili or some red wine to your beef stew for a powerful flavor punch.

2. Citrus

If you've ever cooked with chicken or vegetables, you already know that citrus fruit like lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit have the power to take a bland dish to the next level. One of my favorite salad dressings combines olive oil, lemon juice, salt and black pepper which I top over a simple Israeli-style chopped salad. You can also use the zest or peel for even more flavor by combining it with nonfat plain Greek yogurt for parfaits, popsicles and lighter cookies.

3. Herbs and Spices

These babies are very low in calories and with a plethora from which to choose, you can dress up your meat or veggie dishes a million ways without ever getting bored. Create a simple spice rub to flavor steak or pork roasts; add a sprinkle of cinnamon to baked goodies, oatmeal and smoothies; or chop fresh herbs and add to whole-grain salads such as tabbouleh.
When purchasing spice blends or packets at the store, avoid those with "salt" in the name, such as onion salt and garlic salt. Instead, opt for onion powder and garlic powder, neither of which contain salt.

4. Vinegar

Red wine, white wine, balsamic and apple cider are some common vinegars that can be added to a wide variety of dishes, from salads to sauces. Their tangy taste helps activate taste buds and create a mouthwatering flavor. You can also find vinegars infused with ingredients including garlic, chili peppers, fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store or farmers market.

5. Stocks

You can now find unsalted packaged stocks at the market, but with a little bit of time, it's also possible to make your own healthy stock right at home. Stocks are made by simmering water, bones (fish, chicken or beef), herbs, spices and a combination of vegetables which usually includes carrots, onions and celery (known in the culinary world as a mirepoix).

Making a stock is a fabulous weekend project and you can store half in the freezer for use in future meals. Don’t forget to skim the top of the stock of visible fat, which will make the stock virtually fat free. Use the stock to make vegetable dishes, soups, pasta and grain dishes. 
 
6. Aromatic Vegetables

This group of vegetables adds a strong, distinctive flavor and aromas to both cooked and uncooked dishes. They include onions, scallions, carrots, shallots and chives, and they are versatile enough to jazz up nearly any dish that needs just a little something. Add chopped fresh chives to low-fat plain cream cheese and watch the flavor explode. Chop scallions and add to quinoa to punch up the flavor. I like to sauté onions at the beginning on many chicken and beef dishes to automatically add depth to the flavor.

Salt doesn't have to be your go-to spice for dishes that need a little boost before hitting the dinner table. With a few changes to your cooking methods and base ingredients, you'll cut down on your sodium intake and start feeling healthier in no time. 

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Member Comments

  • I gave up adding salt to my cooking in 1982. Once I got used to the real flavor of natural food, I found that I really didn't miss it. I can tell when I eat processed foods because I am very thirsty afterward.
  • I use these subs also. My favorite alternative to salt is lemon juice. Once you get used to eliminating processed food and added salt from the shaker, your palate will adapt to the point that many commercially prepared foods (including many served in restaurants) taste way too salty to enjoy! The plus side is that your sense of taste will improve and you will enjoy your food more! Thank you for this article!
  • Great suggestions for sure!
  • Great recommendations! Thanks for sharing.
  • BILLTHOMSON
    Thanks for the article, I want to start learning how to cook with spices I've never experienced
  • Good recommendations!
  • Excellent share!
  • As the first poster said, we need salt. The demonization of salt has far, far (far) too many people eliminating salt from their diet. Likewise with fat. We need fat. The key is moderation. The article has some great ideas. The key is that if you will cut the prepared food and cook your own, you can be in complete control. When I use salt, I use Lite Salt to also get the potassium, but like others here I use other spices and ingredients to get the taste without an inordinate amount of salt. Fortunately, you can buy full fat butter with or without salt :)
  • Not sure why you totally demonized salt as some is necessary for bodily function (and yes I understand there can be too much if you eat processed or prepackaged etc food).What's wrong with also mentioning salt substitutes like No Salt or Half Salt? Some people can use these with doctor's approval. Also, part of the reason that there is hypertension, etc is because we generally DO NOT eat sufficient POTASSIUM.
  • I have fresh basil and rosemary on my porch and add it to many different dishes. I also have one of those oil and vinegar shops where I got a fig infused balsamic vinegar which really adds flavor to salads.
  • I live to add balsamic vinegar to homemade lentil/bean soup. Thanks for this article. Well Done!
  • I like to use basil, chives, even peppermint depending on what i'm using it for. I put chives, basil, peppers, garlic cloves, in a bottle with some olive oil. Combine everything together. Set it aside for a couple weeks. It's good on almost anything

About The Author

Toby Amidor Toby Amidor
Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition and the author of "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" and "The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook."