If you’ve been told to reduce your salt intake, and you’ve done any research at all, you’ve already heard more than you ever wanted to know about the wonders of lemon juice. And look, all those people touting its awesomeness are right. Lemon juice can work wonders for highlighting flavor and adding zing. But it’s not the only game in town.
I know this because I spent most of last year learning about low-sodium living (it’s not just diet, FYI – did you know Epsom salt baths are out too?) and figuring out how to make things taste good without salt. That, as you’ve likely discovered, is not an easy task. In part, this is because salt really does make things taste better. It adds a specific flavor – and enhances others in a very specific way – that is impossible to replicate with any other ingredient.
I bumped into a caterer friend at the grocery shortly after I started my quest. This is a woman who regularly preps meals for a whole host of dietary restrictions from gluten-free to low-carb to just about anything else you can imagine. She grimaced when I gave her the low-sodium news. “Ooof,” she said. “That’s a tough one. I just cringe when people tell me they have to do low-salt.”
That right there is the reality, the one the docs and the experts I’ve dealt with have a tendency to downplay: low sodium living is a royal pain in the tail – at first. See that’s the other reality: it does get easier. And while you can’t actually replace salt, you can mask its absence and find ways to incorporate other flavors so that you miss it less. Low-salt is doable. It’s just an adjustment.
For the next three months, we’re going to look at some specific tactics I used to make the switch. Full disclosure, I have zero formal nutritional training. I just did a ton of research and experimentation – and then lived it every day. Always, always get with your doctor and/or nutritionist to make sure any diet you undertake works for your specific blend of health needs. And don’t be afraid to ask those professionals questions. That’s what they’re there for.
This month, we’re going to focus on setting your foundation. Besides being a writer, I’m a strategist by trade and my 25-year career has taught me that jumping feet-first into any project is a great way to make it monumentally harder on yourself. This is going to be tough enough. Let’s set you up for the best chance of success.
The first thing I recommend you do is to go ahead and face the reality that this is going to be tough. People all around are going to pelt you with advice to be positive and look on the bright side. And they’re right. But, unless you’re one of those rare turn-on-a-dime people who can change courses without ever looking back, I personally think it’s important to go ahead and face the yuck first. This is a serious life change, and most people don’t love change, especially when it’s foisted upon them.
Going low-salt will affect how you shop, how you cook, how and how frequently you eat out. Given the central role shared meals play in our social, work, and family lives, it’s going to affect all those things too. Give yourself a bit of time to grieve, to be angry, to be frustrated, to think about how unfair it is. You’re totally allowed to do that. As an ICF-credentialled coach, I’d argue that most people need to do it – and I know few other coaches and therapists who’d disagree.
So first off, rant or sulk or whatever you need to do. But don’t wallow and don’t go into denial. Ignoring this will not make it go away and, at some point, you have to get your head in the game or life is just going to be miserable. Yes, this change is not fun. But you need to do it.
The fact is, most people really need to pay more attention to their salt intake. The other reason making the low-sodium switch is so tough is that we massively over-salt things in our culture. Manufacturers use it not only as a flavor enhancer but also as a preservative – and as a way to disguise the absence of things like fat. Seriously, go look at the nutritional label on a low-fat product and its full-fat equivalent. You’ll usually find the low-fat version has a lot more salt. And if you knew how much salt is in a serving of many restaurant salad dressings, you’d be horrified. I was anyway. Because it’s horrifying.
So, for this month, I’m going to give you two pieces of advice. First, get your head straight. Mourn what you’re leaving behind and then commit to making the switch in whatever way works for you. Make a list of all the reasons it’s important to be healthy. Glue a picture of your grandkids to the salt shaker. Ask for help. Find a support network. Whatever you need to gear up for the switch, do it.
Second, get a lock on your numbers. Talk to your doc about how much sodium you should be getting in a day. You can’t cut it all and you shouldn’t. Sodium is an important nutrient that everyone needs in their diet. But you do need to know your limits. These can vary by condition and from person to person.
If possible, try not to settle for “just don’t add salt to anything.” Doctors say this because the vast majority of low-sodium patients are non-compliant (meaning they don’t do what they’re supposed to do) and the physician is just trying to get the patient to cut at least some of their intake. But that’s not really going to sort the problem, especially if you’ve already been ignoring it for a while.
Ask for a hard number and then go get yourself a visual. If your doctor tells you a quarter teaspoon, go measure that out, and put it in a clear container where you can see it. That container just may keep you alive.