Diabetes Forecast

Flavor Enhancers

Scale back the salt without sacrificing flavor

By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN , , ,

Eric Hinders/Mittera; styled by Haleigh Eason/Mittera

If your doctor has advised you to ease off the salt shaker, you might be wondering why. The answer is sodium, a mineral found mainly in salt. “Too much sodium in a person’s diet can increase their blood pressure, raising their risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, author of Diabetes Cookbook & Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed.

Sodium isn’t all bad. We need small amounts of it for healthy nerves and muscles, and for proper hydration. Trouble is, most people consume too much of it. Americans down more than 3,400 milligrams a day, on average. That’s nearly 50 percent more than the 2,300-milligram limit—the amount found in a teaspoon of salt—that diabetes experts recommend. And if you already have high blood pressure or heart issues, many health care providers suggest consuming even less.

Although salt sensitivity varies from person to person, almost everyone can benefit from cutting back. That starts in your kitchen. Three-quarters of our sodium comes from processed foods (especially bread, cold cuts, soup, frozen meals, and cheese) and restaurant meals, so home cooking can help you cut sodium.

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, dried beans, whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, and fresh or frozen meat and poultry. When buying frozen seafood, be sure it’s free of preservatives, which often include sodium. Eating foods free of added salt can help you trim hundreds of milligrams of sodium.

If salt has always been your go-to seasoning, know that less of it doesn’t have to translate to less flavor. “I always encourage my clients to think of what they can add to foods to boost flavor rather than taking things away, so their meals won’t feel bland and boring,” says Zanini.

The ingredients below are big on taste, yet low in sodium.


Add a kick to chili or tacos with some salt-free chili powder. Fire up red lentils with curry powder and a pinch of garam masala.

Citrus Juice and Zest

Squeeze a wedge of lime over corn. Punch up sweet potatoes with a spritz of orange juice. Grate lemon zest over fish fillets.


Sauté minced garlic in olive oil and toss with your favorite veggies.


Add ½ cup of your favorite brew to beef stew or chili for a subtle, smoky flavor.

Grill rubs

Pat down chicken, steak, or turkey burgers with equal parts onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper.

Herbs (fresh and dried)

Whisk oregano into salad dressing. Sprinkle rosemary over roasted potatoes, cauliflower, and chicken. Toss chopped cilantro into a black bean salad.


Add a few tablespoons of balsamic to sautéed chicken or turkey cutlets for an instant pan sauce.


For a lower-sodium salad dressing, whisk a teaspoon of Dijon or whole-grain mustard and a pinch of your favorite dried herbs into a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and vinegar.


Mince this pungent root and add to Asian stir-fries, noodles, and soups.


Intensify the flavors of sautéed shrimp, scallops, or sole with a splash of white wine. Boil for 30 seconds to cook off its alcohol.

Retrain Your Taste Buds!

Slowly adding more fresh foods to your meal plan—and eating fewer processed ones—can help reduce your cravings for salt.



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