Photo by Donna

Photo by Donna

The salt issue.  People keep bringing it up as though it’s news.

A new report says reduce your salt by 1/2 teaspoon a day and you will be more healthy (as though that alone would do it).

The fact is, we have struggled to make our food so inexpensive that we’ve basically decided to grow cardboard, which, if you’ve ever tasted it, requires plenty of salt, especially if you intend to serve it to guests. Why do you think food is so cheap?  Because there’s nothing of value in it! Including flavor. Thus, the salt.

Do we really need The New England Journal of Medicine to tell us this, or to have the earnest emotive Diane Sawyer reporting it during the dinner hour as though if we just kept our hands off that salt shaker we’d be 80-year-old triathletes?

The problem is in the eating of processed food, the eating of the cheap stuff.  The cup of Swanson’s Organic Chicken Broth (shouldn’t broth be in quotes?) has half a gram of our recommended 2.3 grams. There’s nearly the same amount in that healthy V-8 juice. A Big Mac has twice that.

We need salt to live. It regulates nutrient exchange in our cells.  If we don’t get it we die.  Therefore our bodies are highly attuned to the taste of salt.  That’s how we’ve evolved to regulate it.  The problem is, we don’t recognize it in the form of that chicken broth (please use water instead, btw). We don’t sense it in the V-8.  We do sense it on green beans along with the butter and lemon juice, mmm.  In a baked potato, definitely.  On a tomato—salt and tomato is what salting food is all about.

Have you ever tried this?  Taste a tomato plain.  Taste the same tomato with some kosher salt on it.  That shows you the value of salt.

I have talked with many chefs about this.  Thomas Keller and I have had serious discussions about the stance to take on salt. I wrote a book in which the most important ingredient is salt. My belief is this: if you eat natural foods, you don’t need to worry about salt.  Period.  End of discussion.  Some people have real issues with hypertension—they have to watch it on the salt.  My mom, I go easy on it when she visits (makes her ankles puffy).  Otherwise the truth is this: if you have a salt intake problem, you’re eating the wrong food.

The above tomatoes? They were salted, floured, egg-washed and dipped in differing quantities of flour and corn meal.  I love the acidity of fried tomatoes, and the juicy crunch.  Wish I were having them for lunch. Alas, it’s January.  Maybe some leftover veg stew from last night, nothing but winter vegetables, a bacon rind, and water.  Perfectly seasoned with salt.

Update 1/27: Dr. John White, an associate professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia, a kidney doctor, left the following comment, which I think is worth calling attention to here for those not reading comments:

“As a nephrologist, I would like to make a few comments regarding salt. The primary problem with salt-excess and hypertension depends on one’s inherent ability to excrete salt thru the kidney. We all must maintain strict sodium balance within our bodies in order to maintain normal cellular function. Thusly, we have adapted the ability to this balance at very low levels of salt intake, as well as very high levels. The problem is that some people require a higher blood pressure in order to excrete higher levels of salt, thus their blood pressure becomes “salt-sensitive”. The other issue is poorly understood and appears to arise from chronic ‘salt-toxicity.’ Societies that subsist on very low sodium diet and high potassium diets have almost no hypertension. This effect disappears when these individuals convert to our ‘Western Diet.’”


101 Wonderful responses to “Salt. Is It Good Or Bad?”

  • Rhonda


    I asked for truthful information from you and just realize that there is a few things you should know.

    1. I am a Chef

    2. I am arrogant and a complete asshole. However, I never use the word “Fabulous”. *Ahem*.

    3. I do not think these studies have been done properly so you scientists are coming to misleading conclusions while you are microwaving your Kraft Mac & Cheese,

    JW, I could be wrong. I hope I am but in my life experience, Doctors have had the worst knowedge about food ever conveyed.

  • Rhonda

    Chef del Grosso:

    What do YOU have to say about this? Please, step out of your Meth lab and teach us something.

  • bob delgrosso

    I think the doctor is right and that it is not wise to wholeheartedly embrace the unchecked consumption of anything (even bacon, sorry 🙂 I also agree with Ruhlman in that the most gastronomically pleasant and aesthetic way to avoid over consumption of salt (and all of the other overused ingredients such as sucrose and fats) is to eat mostly “natural” (not processed/minimally processed) foods. It should go without adding that our diet should include a a broad variety of things from all of the major food kingdoms (plants, animals, fungi, monerans).

    -Would that everyone on the planet had the luxury of choice that we in the G1 states have.

  • Sara

    I read once (though it may have been on the Maldon salt website!) that the amount of salt used by a home cook is negligible–it’s really the salt in processed foods. The moral being that cutting out salt when you are cooking really has no impact; it’s cutting out the processed stuff that you should focus on if you are concerned about salt. Not a lot different from what you are saying, but just the “reverse” of of what you are saying is important to keep in mind in the kitchen!

    also, that tomato is looking so delicious to me right now…

  • JW

    This comment is for Rhonda:

    Iodized salt is no different than Kosher et al as the “salt” in question is sodium chloride. It seems that sodium without the chloride anion isn’t as adept at promoting hypertension. I’ve attached a link to a fascinating review article written in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 “Sodium and Potassium in the Pathogenesis of Hypertension.” It’s a bit dense, but you may enjoy reading.

    As for your comment #3. “I do not think these studies have been done properly so you scientists are coming to misleading conclusions while you are microwaving your Kraft Mac & Cheese…” The recommendations to lower sodium in the diet is well-founded and based on the proposed effects on society as a whole, not the individual. In medicine, there are few things that apply to everyone:

    1. Wear your seat belt
    2. Practice safe sex
    3. Don’t smoke


  • JW

    And I almost forgot! I have at least 3 salt pigs in my kitchen and a variety of specialty salts 🙂

  • Rhonda

    JW: I just had a free moment and revisited this post. Thanks for your comment. I tried to access your link and they wanted me to subscribe. I didn’t. However, a new comment on Ruhlman’s latest salt post indicated that in Canada, there are at least 4 ingredients in common table salt that is sold in Canada.

    I found this very interesting. Perhaps this is what has my panties in a twist? Perhaps it is not the added iodine? I will continue to read up on this and learn more.

    As for your last comment with the three dictums; I completely agree. Would you please pass this along to my kitchen staff because they are completely oblivious to this obvious common sense. And, also, tell them to get a phone so that I do not have to walk down the street and pull them out of the bar.

    Yes, we are a bunch of hypocrites! We preach fresh & sustainable food, yet abuse ourselves in other ways.

    I appreciate your input. Sorry that it took me so long to find your response. I have my hands full at the moment.


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