Undeniably, almost all foods taste much better with salt than without.
Sodium (table salt = sodium chloride (NaCl)) plays an important role in regulating fluid balance, muscle contractions, nervous system signalling and blood pressure.
Although our bodies need sodium, we take in too much of it. The recommended amount of sodium for people aged 14 and over is 2300 milligrams (mg) per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt), and about 90% of people regularly exceed this.
Excessive salt intake can lead to a number of serious health problems, such as:
In our food system, it is easy to meet the body’s sodium needs, but difficult to avoid excessive intake.
Because we are cooking less and less ourselves and consuming more and more – ultra-processed foods, which are usually high in salt (sodium).
Although many people know that, for example, chips and canned soups contain a lot of salt (where it also acts as a preservative), we are usually unaware that products like bread, cheese, various sauces and even ready-made desserts are also important sources of sodium.
Approximately 70% of our daily sodium intake comes from processed (packaged) foods and ready meals sold in shops and restaurants.
This article is about how to keep sodium intake within reasonable limits – by reducing it and replacing salt with other spices and herbs.
Salt substitutes are products used as an alternative to traditional table salt (sodium chloride) to enhance and enrich the flavour of food. Salt substitutes usually contain little or no sodium and use alternative minerals and/or herbs instead.
Two common types of salt substitutes are:
- Potassium-based salt substitutes. In other words, sodium is replaced by potassium. However, people with kidney, heart and intestinal disorders should consult their doctor before using these substitutes.
- Mixtures of herbs and spices. These mixtures contain various herbs, spices and sometimes even dehydrated vegetables that can add flavour and richness to dishes without the use of salt.
Salt substitutes can be very useful if you want to reduce your sodium intake, but they do not fully replicate the taste of salt and sometimes you need time to adjust to the difference in taste.
Potassium-based salt substitutes
Potassium-based salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, which provides a taste similar to sodium chloride but with a lower sodium content. They can be used as an alternative to traditional salt (sodium chloride) both in cooking and as table salt.
Potassium is necessary for the normal functioning of all cells. It regulates the heartbeat, ensures proper muscle and nerve function and is vital for protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism.
Whereas in the past, when people ate almost exclusively raw foods, there was about 16 times more potassium in the diet than sodium, today there is around twice as much sodium as potassium. Today, we only get approximately half of the recommended amount of potassium (up to 3400 mg per day) in our diet. This imbalance, which goes against human evolution, is thought to be the main cause of high blood pressure, affecting about one in three adults.
In other words, replacing sodium with potassium is positive. Adequate potassium intake can help improve blood pressure regulation and more.
As always, you shouldn’t overdo it, as too much potassium can lead to health problems (hyperkalaemia), which in severe cases is associated with symptoms such as:
- Heart palpitations.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Although in most cases, the symptoms are mild and non-specific – you may feel muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, nausea or other unusual sensations.
Balance is the key to everything, and potassium, like sodium, should not be consumed in too large quantities.
If you are considering using potassium chloride as a salt substitute, please note:
- Potassium chloride provides a salty taste but may have a slightly different taste compared to sodium chloride (table salt). Some people may experience a metallic or bitter aftertaste when using potassium-based substitutes.
- If you want to replace regular salt with potassium chloride, it is a good idea to do this gradually to allow your body to adjust to the change.
- If you have any chronic health problems – especially kidney or heart disease – be sure to consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.
Herbs and spices
Salt is one of the most common spices and is the easiest way to enrich the flavour of food.
We consume too much salt daily, which, over time, can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Salt consumption should be reduced, and the taste and flavour of food should be enriched more with herbs and spices than with salt.
The use of herbs and spices will not only reduce your salt intake but can also add variety and something new to your meals.
It’s a great way to enjoy the flavours of the Mediterranean, North Africa, India…
Here are 20 spices that can enrich the taste of your food almost as much as salt or even better:
Garlic is often associated with Italian cuisine. It is a relatively pungent spice that enhances flavour without increasing sodium content.
Especially in recipes for tomato sauces and marinades, you can reduce the salt and double the garlic. Garlic is delicious in soups, stews and potato dishes.
Garlic is also associated with several health benefits, such as boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.
2 Lemon juice or zest
Citrus fruits, especially lemon juice and zest, are a great alternative to salt in many recipes.
As a source of acid, lemon juice acts like salt in bringing out the flavour of the food and lemon zest provides a strong citrus flavour. The juice and zest of limes and oranges also have this effect.
When lemon juice is added to dishes at the very end of cooking, it also helps to enhance the colour of the vegetables.
Citrus fruits can be used in salad dressings and marinades for meat and fish, poured over cooked vegetables or juiced on fish or chicken.
3 Black pepper
Black pepper usually goes hand in hand with salt, but adding only pepper can add just as much flavour with no sodium. Not to mention that the active compounds in pepper can help fight inflammation.
Black pepper is a good addition to soups, roasts, fish, pasta, etc.
You can also try white pepper, peppercorn mixes and pepper alternatives such as jalapeno, chilli and cayenne peppers.
Dill is a botanical relative of celery, so it is just as low in calories and has a distinct sour-sweet, slightly bitter taste, making it a tasty alternative to salt.
Dill is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C and can support digestive and kidney health.
Although many people immediately associate dill with pickles, this herb is actually very versatile. Its refreshing, lemony flavour goes well with chicken and fish dishes, potatoes and cucumber, tomato or noodle salads.
5 Dried onions or onion powder
Despite its strong taste, dried onion is salt-free, making it a particularly good salt alternative for those following low-sodium diets.
Like garlic, onions can be used to boost the flavour of almost any salty recipe.
Dried onions or onion powder are even more potent than fresh onions and can be used to replace salt in baked potatoes, soups, stews, sauces, chicken or egg salads and salsas.
6 Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is deactivated (inactive) yeast and is sold as yeast flakes and powders.
It is known for its cheesy, spicy flavour and goes well with popcorn, pasta and cereal dishes.
Despite its cheese-like taste, it is dairy-free.
Using nutritional yeast instead of salt can also have health benefits. Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins (particularly, a good source of vitamin B12, which could be important for vegans) and the beta-glucan fibres it contains can help lower cholesterol levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
In addition, nutritional yeast contains both dietary fibre and proteins, which help to maintain satiety for longer.
7 Balsamic vinegars
Balsamic vinegar has a sharp, spicy flavour with a sweet tinge. It brings out the natural flavours of food well, minimising the need for salt.
Use balsamic vinegar in salad dressings, soups, stews and marinades for meat and fish. Heating it in a saucepan over low heat can produce an even tastier syrup, which is the perfect complement to fresh tomatoes or roasted/grilled vegetables.
Balsamic vinegar can also be used to make very tasty, crunchy snacks, e.g., drizzle it over chickpeas and bake for about 30 minutes.
8 Smoked paprika powder
Smoked paprika has a smoky, spicy flavour and a deep red colour. It not only adds a beautiful sunset hue to fried dishes but is also a great alternative to salt.
Paprika can be used in many recipes such as stews, chilli, nachos, roast meat, fish or poultry. It can also be used as a substitute for salsa, which is often high in sodium.
9 Truffle oil
Truffle oil is infused with its unique and intense truffle flavour and aroma. It imparts a strong, earthy flavour to food that is praised by gourmets all over the world.
While whole truffles are valued for their antioxidant and antibacterial properties, these beneficial properties are less expressed in truffle oil due to extraction and processing methods.
The flavour of truffle oil is so strong that a few drops are enough to impart a rich flavour to pasta, pizza, eggs, mashed potatoes, vegetables…
Rosemary is a popular herb that has a wintry pine flavour, so it goes well with hearty soups, stews and other home-cooked dishes. It is also often used to add flavour to oils and dressings.
Consider adding fresh or dried rosemary not only to soups, stews and roasts but also to roasted vegetables, dressings, sauces, pates, pies and breads.
Ginger, with its spicy and sweet taste, can replace salt in many dishes.
Freshly chopped ginger root or dried ginger can be added to stews, sauces, marinades, drinks and soups.
In addition, ginger has been used for medical purposes for centuries – it has anti-inflammatory properties, can help relieve muscle pain, and boosts the immune system…
12 Coconut aminos
Coconut aminos, are a dark brown liquid made from the sap of coconut palms. It tastes like soy sauce but has a sweet flavour and a much lower sodium content.
These characteristics make it an excellent alternative to soy sauce in stews, rice dishes, sauces and marinades.
Coriander is obtained from the seeds of the coriander plant. It has a warm, floral and lemony flavour and can add depth and contrast to spicy dishes. In Indian and Mexican cuisine, ground or whole coriander is often added to salsas, soups and curries.
14 Chilli pepper flakes
For a spicy flavour to any dish, swap salt for chilli pepper flakes.
This powerful spice is made from dried hot peppers and is added to soups, chillies, sauces, marinades, pizzas and pasta.
15 Apple cider vinegar
Sweet and bitter apple cider vinegar is a versatile salt substitute and can be a tasty, sodium-free addition to a wide variety of dishes. Its spicy, fruity flavour is very strong, so add just a little.
Mix it with olive oil to make salad dressings, add to marinades to flavour meat dishes or add to fresh, roasted and grilled vegetables.
Animal studies have also shown that vinegar may lower cholesterol and improve risk factors for heart disease.
Cinnamon, one of the most commonly used ingredients in bakery products, can also be used as a substitute for salt to enrich the flavour.
This warm spice has a slightly sweet and peppery aroma. Add it to chilli, soups, tomato sauce, curries, roasts and marinades for chicken or turkey.
When cooking beans or lentils, add a cinnamon stick to the pot.
Sage is a green herb with a citrus and eucalyptus flavour.
Both fresh and dried sage have a rather strong flavour, making it a good salt substitute. Especially in spicy autumn dishes such as butter sauces, roasted courgettes, mashed sweet potatoes, risotto, polenta and bean dishes.
Like many green herbs, sage is rich in vitamin K, which helps to build and regulate proteins involved in bone metabolism and blood clotting.
Estragon is a very aromatic spice with a liquorice-like, slightly bitter taste.
Next time you make scrambled eggs or chicken salad, add fresh or dried estragon instead of salt. This herb is particularly tasty in butter or cream sauces served with chicken, fish and vegetables.
19 Kelp granules
Kelp granules are dried seaweed with a mild salty taste. They are rich in iodine, which is often difficult to get enough of.
The seaweed is ground to a coarse consistency that looks very much like coarse pepper. Kelp granules are suitable for cooking, sprinkling on salads and vegetables, as well as for general use as a salt substitute.
As Kelp granules taste similar to seaweed, they go very well with all seafood dishes.
Basil has an appealing flavour and aroma that can complement many dishes, from vegetables and meats to cheese and fresh fruits.
Basil is also rich in vitamins K, A, C and E and is known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Make pesto, use it to garnish pizza and pasta dishes, sauté with vegetables, mix with herbs, add to fresh salads, or combine with oil and vinegar to make delicious dressings.
The typical Western diet is too high in sodium, and many studies are showing that even small reductions in dietary sodium can help reduce the risks associated with cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death today.
Regular table salt is rarely the main source of sodium in our diets, so switching to a salt substitute containing potassium chloride may not always have a significant impact on sodium intake.
Limiting ultra-processed products and convenience foods is a better way to reduce total sodium intake.
If you want to start using potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride, pay attention to the ingredients on the label because just because a product calls itself a salt substitute does not mean that it is sodium-free.
However, it is best to start cooking more yourself and to vary the flavour of your food with different spices and herbs rather than just pepper and salt. This way you will both – know exactly what to put in your mouth and diversify your taste world.