Nutrition Corner: Cut down on salt by cooking at home

February 4th, 2016 1:29 pm

The last of the series updating readers on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines is all about salt.

We Americans love our salt. Salt is, in chemical terms, sodium chloride. In looking at the chart comparing the recommended maximum or upper limit and the amount consumed per age group for men and women, it shows that the two lines shall never cross. The amount consumed is always above the recommended maximum limit.

On average, men age 31 to 50 consume 4,500 milligrams per day and the recommended amount is just under 2,500. Women age 31 to 50 consume a little over 3,000 milligrams per day and just less than 2,500 are recommended.

The very young, age 1 to 3, and the very old, age 71, are doing the best in eating the recommended.

Some of us might say we don’t add salt at the table, or I stopped adding salt to my boiling water for pasta. But where is the salt really coming from in our diets?

It’s surprising to note that 65 percent of the sodium we consume is from processed foods and approximately 25 percent is from restaurant foods.

Here is the list of processed foods in order from highest sodium content to lowest, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2005-06: Bread and rolls, chicken and chicken-mixed dishes, pizza, pasta and pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments, tortillas, tacos, sausage, franks, cheese, grain-based desserts, soups, beef and beef mixed dishes, rice and rice mixed dishes, and burgers.

Hence, most sodium consumed in the United States comes from salts added during commercial food processing and food preparation.

The first step to reducing sodium in your diet is to reduce the amount of commercially prepared foods you eat, including dining out.

How? Take inventory of main entrees that you normally eat more than once or twice a week. An example is chicken patties. Try breading your own chicken and baking instead of purchasing oven-ready. It takes a little longer but you will eat healthier and save money.

Be aware of the sodium in commercially prepared pizza. Read the food label on commercially prepared foods. You will be surprised to find out how much sodium is added. When you order take-out, ask if they add salt or garlic salt to the pizza.

A second step to reducing sodium is to rinse any canned beans or vegetables before cooking or adding to soups. More than 30 percent of the sodium can be rinsed off. Or you can purchase low-sodium products.

Last but not least, be choosy with soups. There are low-sodium soups available today, but making your own can have even less sodium.

Check out this recipe, which begins with making stock from chicken with bones for even more flavor. To reduce the fat, make the broth the day before, refrigerate and take off the hardened fat.

Chicken stock/broth

3-4 pounds whole chicken or chicken parts

2 large onions cut into pieces

2 celery stalks, cut into pieces

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan. Add 6-8 cups of water to cover the ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat. Skim off foam with a large spoon. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove meat from bones. Reserve the meat. Put broth in several shallow containers. Cover. Refrigerate cooked broth until fat is solid on top. Remove fat and discard. Yields approximately 6-8 cups of broth. Chicken broth may be used for soups or stews. Meat from bones can be used for soups, stews, casseroles, salads, or sandwiches.

Vegetable soup with kale and lentils

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 medium carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick

1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and minced (3-4 cloves) or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

4 cups water

1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils

1 14.5-ounce can reduced sodium chicken broth*

1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning

1 14.5-ounce can no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes

1 bunch kale (about 7 ounces)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Cook 5 minutes. Add water to veggies in pot. Heat to boiling. Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain. Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes. Rinse kale leaves, cut out main stems and discard. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces. Stir kale and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 minutes.

*or make your own chicken broth

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan, and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at