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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Q: Has our society substituted the taste of salt for good food?

I have CHF, atrial fib, cardiomyopathy and hypertension. Also Cat 3 kidneys. I am very sodium sensitive.

I believe that in addition to total sodium, the ratio of sodium and potassium is important. Finally, I look to a 24 hour cycle to balance any high items. My general target is to not exceed 1,000 mg of sodium per day (as opposed to the 2300 and 3000 approved by the government and the Heart Association). Consequently I would not eat virtually any of the items that you have selected which generally start at 500mg. Even your recipes with ONLY 1/4 teaspoon of salt contributes almost 600mg of sodium. [And 8 glasses of water per day for another 500mg or so.]

Consequently, I cook from scratch because the amount of sodium in our prepared food supply (like Healthy Choice) is absurd. Although I now love to cook, I would like the convenience of a TV dinner.

Is my problem that I think too much or that our society has substituted the taste of salt for good food?

Q: Dr. Gourmet Says...

Yours was a great email to receive. Certainly your attitude towards your diet is fantastic. I think that most physicians would love to have you in their practice as conscientious as you are.

Your case is clearly the extreme as far as being sodium sensitive. 1,000 mg of sodium is a very difficult target and we usually reserve such recommendations for people like yourself with a combination of diagnosis. It is very smart of you to consider this in a 24 hour cycle as well.

500 mg is generally considered to be the threshold for a low-sodium recipe. The 2,400 mg (as is the FDA required standard) is a reasonable amount and for most people this is a good target. Considering the amount of salt most of the population consumes in a western diet this is very low by comparison. In a 24 hour cycle Dr. Gourmet recipes will average out to about this target. Some days there will be a little more and others less.

One alternative for you is to eliminate the added salt in the recipes on the Dr. Gourmet web site. Because a teaspoon of salt has 2,325 mg of sodium 1/8 teaspoon will have 290 mg. 1/8 teaspoon per serving is usually the amount that I add to recipes. If there is a recipe that has 500 mg of sodium in it, you would only be getting 210 mg.

In taste testing I have found that the threshold for foods tasting bland is around 300 mg. Depending on the recipe you may find that you will need less. There is very good research that shows our salt taste buds learn and that by eating less sodium you become more sensitive to it. (see The Health of It All... Do Your Salt Taste Buds Learn?)

I sympathize with you about prepared meals that are on the market. Even the ones that are relatively healthy are much higher in salt. I am always on the lookout for convenience foods that are lower in sodium.

You are correct that foods today are very high in salt. It is very easy to make food taste better by adding more salt and the more people eat the less sensitive they become to it. There is a balance for most people and the targets of 2,400 mg to 3,000 mg are reasonable for a healthy diet.

Thanks for writing. I very much enjoyed hearing your story.

Dr. Gourmet
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!