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.’”

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

  • Lynda

    Everything with a grain of salt. Nice post, thank you.
    Glad to see blogher vs. google back in the corner. It looks better, and now you’re a click away.

  • Live to Cook at Home

    As usual, I couldn’t agree more. Salt is so important in the proper flavoring of any dish. I’ve learned from reading your books that it’s not only important that you salt, but when the salt is added throughout the process.

    I also love the picture of the tomato. The contrast between the green & red is striking.

  • michael

    kurlansky book excellent.

    on my page right now, there’s an ad for V-8 Fusion (wonderhow that happened?). I went to the site to see how much sodium. Only got an FAQ page with Does Fusion have a lot of sodium? Answer: no, it’s low sodium, says the site. Doesn’t say what low means.

  • Jason

    Elliott – I’ve been slowly making my way through that book. It’s really fascinating!

    I think this is just another example of media jumping on the new food evil. It’s straight out of Pollan’s In Defense of Food where he talks about how people are constantly rushing toward some new magic nutrient/ingredient or running away from the bogey man. Compare with eggs, carbs, red meat, fish, etc.

  • Stumptown Savoury

    Amen! I regularly tell my students that the problem isn’t salt, it’s that the table salt they’re using isn’t food. If they drop the processed foods and table salt and instead use natural sea salts they’ll improve flavors and get all the micronutrients that have been removed from the chemically pure stuff they’ve been consuming.

    Thanks for another excellent rant.

  • Ryan Detzel

    Just ate an incredible organic heirloom tomato with a healthy pinch of kosher salt on it. I used to think I didn’t like tomatoes as a stand alone. I was right. I like them with salt.

  • carri

    I used to judge the breads at the state fair and by far the biggest mistake people made was not adding salt to their dough. In the case of yeasted bread, or any leavened baked good, really, the salt is a critical part of the process, without it you end up someting that has no texture and…tastes like cardboard!

  • Richard

    I’ve found I have been able to reduce the need for salt by increasing the amount of acid. Thomas and Michael talk about using vinegar as a seasoning in “Ad Hoc at Home.” You’d be surprised what a splash of lemon juice or cider vinegar can do to enhance flavors.

  • Clay

    i feel like the anti-anti-salt/fat rants can be just as annoying and useless as the anti-salt/fat rants. “we” are always focused on “we” when it comes to diet when “we” all respond differently to food. i’ve got a nice pudge around the middle and eat too much salt and fat, but im far from overweight and, at 30, have below average cholesterol and a healthy heart. “I” eat what’s right for “me” and only worry about “we” when it comes to paying for “their” medical bills.

    and ill keep my swansons (reduced sodium – ha!) chicken “broth,” thank you very much.

  • Natalie Sztern

    You are right Salt is the single most important mineral I keep in my kitchen alongside pepper and a slice of a ripe tomato with a sprinkle of Kosher salt, or gray salt is the most aphrodisiacal sense a mouth can feel

  • Abbie

    Good point. I could go on and on and on about my peers and how they eat “healthy” food involving cardboard in a microwave and McDonald’s wraps and yogurt parfaits. I’m not a perfect eater, either, but I do realize that eating fresh vegetables is way better than eating processed crap.

  • Mary-Heather

    There are stories, similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear, from around the world, in which the Cordelia-type character tells the father she loves him as meat loves salt. Her father thinks she doesn’t love him so she’s banished, as Cordelia is, and finds work as a maid in a kitchen… until one day when her father visits and she serves him a meal without salt. When he tastes the food, he begins to cry as he realizes that his daughter loved him beyond compare. Salt is important.

  • Jake Richter @ FoodieMoment.com

    I think the problem with the most recent salt study is that it looks at salt as a component in the typical “western diet”, which consists of a excessive amount of refined foods – sugars and starches among them, and those are slowly being shown as the major ingredients in heart disease and diabetes. The recommendation to remove some amount of salt from a diet which is already unhealthy is kind of senseless. Much like those folks who have a triple scoop Sundae and wash it down with a diet soda.

    Salt is a necessity and life is short, so use good salt and enjoy life.

  • charity dasenbrock

    I so agree! Years ago, I stopped eating processed food ( still the very occasional foray into the inevitable) and once I did, gosh, salt tastes really good!

  • Leela@SheSimmers

    Funny. I was drafting a blog post on salt and the Latin etymology of the word “salary” yesterday. A few hours later, I saw a recent Thomas Keller interview wherein, when asked what his favorite ingredient is, he says, “Salt.” And now, this.

    Well said. Poor salt is unfairly vilified.

  • Drago

    My satisfaction with my own cooking has increased substantially since I bought one of those Alton Brown-style salt cellars. I now liberally sprinkle it on more than I used to, with great results.

    I’ll admit that I eat more fast food than I should, and probably get too much salt from that, but my blood pressure is still fine, so I’m happy with that. (Almost never any processed foods at home, though.)

  • CarolB

    I adore salt. I use it wisely. Yes, it’s an essential nutrient our bodies need. Kosher, Himalayan, sea, iodized – bring it on. I keep a little ceramic shot glass full of kosher salt next to the stove top. I sprinkle it here and there and everywere. Key word: sprinkle. When a recipe calls for it, I add it unless I think the porportions are over the top, then I cut back by 1/2.
    Balance in all things. And flavor, please.

  • Rachel

    My father in law recently eliminated salt in his cooking because of blood pressure issues. He made and served bread last week sans salt. Oh my goodness it is a painful experience to eat his cooking now!

    Diet is a balancing act, I think. Drink alcohol but not too much. Salt with real salt on real food in lieu of highly processed highly salted junk. Eat naturally occurring fats in moderation. And on and on and on.

  • Ocean

    “if you eat natural foods, you don’t need to worry about salt. Period. ”

    Not everyone can afford “natural” foods. Period.

  • Susan B.

    I agree! I couldn’t imagine eating a baked potato or even scrambled eggs without salt! I am amazed at how much salt is in prepared food! And, yes, the word broth on the Swanson’s label should be in quotation marks!

  • RKM

    I completely agree with you. Salt itself is not bad for you when consumed in moderation – and most home cooks use it in moderation. It becomes problematic when people eat mostly packaged or fast foods that use salt not only for flavoring but as a preservative and to increase a product’s weight.

    I live in New York City where we have launched a national salt reduction initiative. Most people think that we’re banning salt but the goal is actually to reduce salt in *packaged and (chain) restaurant) foods*. Those are the culprits. People who actually cook their own food and food from restaurants that use fresh ingredients (ie, not foods that need a long shelf life so that they can sit at your local Olive Garden or Applebee’s for months before being served) very likely have nothing to worry about.

  • John Speno

    I feel like my metabolism is in excellent shape due to my primal diet of natural foods. Therefore I trust my body’s signals and allow them to guide me as to what things to put in my mouth and when to do it.

    I know from observation that I feel thirsty some time after I’ve eaten foods with higher salt content. When that happens, I drink water and the thirst goes away. My body knows what it is doing. I try not to get in its way.

    So, I do not worry one lick about salt.

  • Laura [What I Like]

    As usual, I could not agree more, and that is how I rationalize my absolute devotion to Maldon salt. No need to worry as long as I’m putting it on something recognizable as food!

  • Fran

    I’d love to hear what you have to say about that Nutella ad that touts the sugary confection as being a way to “get your kids to eat healthy foods like whole grain bread.”

    I’d heard about the ad last week in Mexico, but saw it for the first time this morning. The ad proudly speaks of “hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of chocolate.” They fail to note that it’s basically chocolate and nut flavored milk jam (dulce de leche) which requires a whole lot of sugar. It would be nothing but soupy nut flavored milk with a hint of chocolate without the sugar — and the ingredient list at the Nutella website notes palm oil as well.

    I hate being “talked to” like I’m an idiot — like I wouldn’t know better. I wonder how many people have fallen for it. Probably plenty.

  • Dan

    I love your blog, and your writing in general, but I don’t know about this. I wish I could agree with the assertion that those who eat natural foods won’t have to watch their salt, but it hasn’t been true for me. I eat almost all of my food from a CSA, a CSF, local farmer’s markets, etc., and consume almost no processed foods whatsoever. I still have (fortunately mild) hypertension.

    Part of my problem is genetic–most of the men in my family have high blood pressure. The other part? I cooked professionally for several years. Almost everything you get in a restaurant is generously seasoned, as you know, and if you cook like that at home (as I did for a long time), it adds up to a lot of salt. I use only the best stuff to season my food (good-quality sea salts and fleur de sel, naturally brewed organic soy sauce, etc.), but quantity still makes a difference. I’ve recently started dialing back the seasoning, and making more spice-heavy preparations (Indian, North African, etc.) and it’s brought my blood pressure down noticeably.

  • melissa

    I’m lucky in that I taste salt more strongly than most people I know, so I was dialing back the salt the day I started cooking for myself. One of the few reasons I prefer to eat at home than at most restaurants.

    But mainly I wanted to comment on the tomatoes. Because it’s winter, and one of the joys of canning is being able to reach into the pantry, grab a jar of tomatoes that you canned at the peak of their freshness, and enjoy their beautiful, ripe deliciousness (they almost taste the same as if they WERE fresh) even out of season–like I did the other night. (And I just add a wee pinch of kosher salt to whatever I’m putting the tomatoes on/in, and that’s enough for me)

  • sara

    I agree, to a point, with the assertion that eating whole foods means not having to worry a lot about salt.

    But I have high blood pressure, and my first line of defense on keeping that under control is in not salting my food much. (The second is in eating more garlic than I used to, which is very helpful as well). The blood pressure is not something I have a choice about, being genetically predisposed.

    Cooking everything from scratch is one of the most important things one can do for one’s health, that’s for sure. I’m seeing MSG in canned soups now, which is something one never saw a few years ago. Sometimes it isn’t listed as that, but merely as salt, btw. If you look at the sodium content on a food and see a percentage over 30%, chances are that is MSG in the product.

  • Schlake

    I think it’s a no brainer. Salt tastes bad. It’s foul, icky stuff that ruins almost anything it touches. Food without salt ,on the other hand, has a chance of tasting good.

    PS: I’m severely allergic to iodine

  • caroline

    I agree completely. Much like sugar, dairy, gluten, and numerous other food products, there is a small percentage of the population whose salt intake must be limited because of a health issue, but salt doesn’t cause problems for most people if it’s consumed in naturally occurring quantities.

    Your salt discussion bears such a resemblance to conversations about high fructose corn syrup and diabetes. As we all know, people who consume a lot of processed food are also getting a lot more sugar than people who eat more natural foods. If you dip a fresh strawberry in sugar, the combination of flavors is richly appealing; if you eat a strawberry-flavored Hostess cake, you’re getting ten times as much sugar and barely even noticing it.

  • caroline

    Also, to the person who argued that natural foods are unaffordable, I’d like to disagree by sharing my own experience. I live in one of the most expensive parts of the U.S., but typically spend only $30 a week on fresh fruits and vegetables at my local ethnic grocery, where produce costs a third of what it would at the big-name grocery stores. It’s not organic, but it is fresh and natural. Supplemented with the dried beans and rice that I buy in bulk, that’s pretty much all I need to keep two adults supplied in delicious, healthful meals. I could afford to spend more on food, but I really don’t see a need to.

  • The FoodNinja

    Responding to a couple of different points:

    People who think eating fresh and healthy is expensive don’t know how to shop. There is more to organic produce than Whole Foods.

    Mark Kurlansky’s book “Salt” is very good, but his “Cod” is even better. Seek it out.

    And salt is absolutely awesome. I consider myself a pretty good cook, but it’s the perfect application of salt that separates a good cook from a great one.

  • Stephanie Stiavetti

    I’ve argued about salt until my ears bled. I’m a staunch believer that if you’re eating good, fresh food, you don’t need it – or if you do, it’s purely an accompaniment.

    That said, I’m a salt nerd. I have so many varieties in my cupboard that guests balk when I ask them which they’d like – the alderwood smoked or the blue Pervian pyramid? People should regard salt as a special ingredient, like dusting sugars. They both have a time and a place, and it’s certainly not constantly and everywhere.

    And anyways – how can you blame salt for hypertension without considering the dreck people are putting it on/in? I challenge anyone to taste baby chard and continue their claim that food is bland without salt.

  • Stephanie

    There’s a lovely folk tale about a king who declares that the daughter who loves him the most will inherit everything. Two of them go on about jewels and real estate and what have you, but the youngest tells him that she loves him more than the salt on her table. He freaks out and banishes her, naturally, until she sneaks back from Elba or the nunnery (or the nunnery ON Elba) and conspires with the kitchen staff to serve him a meal made entirely without salt. He freaks out again, realizes that she’s brilliant and gives her the crown and castle and, one hopes, her pick of the lads in the land.

    In sum, salt is good.

  • John Speno

    For people avoiding salt because of its possible impact on hypertension: You should also be avoiding fructose, i.e. fruits, corn syrup, and table sugar. Fructose metabolism produces uric acid which inhibits nitric oxide bioavailability which raises your blood pressure.

  • ocean

    “don’t know how to shop.”

    I’m assuming your personal economy allows you some mobility. Many lack that.

  • Mike

    We have way too many tomatoes here, as it is summer. I might have a crack at these fried tomatoes this weekend. Are they best ripe or green or slightly orange? Anything you recommend to pair with them (food or drink)?

  • luis

    You are making some very astute observations on salt. Bravo this is a hot topic indeed and the comercial crops devoid of flavor for sure. Big point given and taken.

    It’s all part of the modern food machine. I will mention it but won’t bore anyone with David Kesslers fine fine work on contemporary cuisine and the obesity phenomenom in America since the 1960’S.
    Finest book on the subject ever written.

    The thing of it is that taste is dynamic and has to be developed. You can learn to like any taste/most tastes. Coffee is crap but we love it. Like pouring tar into your pristine stomach. Crap!.

    Diet soda is crap, but we reach for it from time to time. Our taste has evolved that way. Mac and Cheese is crap! but probable comes in second to pizza. Corn dogs are Crap…. but people never tire of throwing them into their lunch pails. On and on…….

    Most cheeses are crap .. why? you don’t even bother to refrigerate them anymore. NOT alive.

    on and on……. But I do love my Fried green tomatoes….YUM!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Devon

    When I make an unadorned salad in Italy, it tastes like it was made by a master chef. When I make that same salad here I have to season and sauce like a mad women. I agree, the solution to many of our problems is eating real food.

  • Lindsy Perez

    I could get lost in the picture of the tomato– absolutely gorgeous!

    I completely agree about salt, but then it is easier to pick on something as ubiquitous and irreplaceable as salt rather than take on the processed food industry.

    This made me go ape the other morning: a British doctor is trying to ban butter and advocating low fat substitutes… !!!

    http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=151782260

  • Corey

    Preach it! Just like the other great flavor enhancer, fat (on which Michael Natkin has a nice recent post on herbivoracious.com), salt takes a lot of unfair shots. On behalf of people with low blood pressure everywhere, I thank you for this!

  • james

    Here is the simple fact. Without salt the human race would have died out thousands of years ago.. Salt preserved our food and kept it from rotting. The problem isn’t salt it is processed food. As soon as the talking heads can get that clear as they have with trans fats the better off we will be.

  • David

    Generalizations are guidelines. We all have different metabolisms.
    What works for one person can be a disaster for another.

  • Carrie

    I’m slightly suspicious of gourmet salts. I wonder if there was a blind tasting of various salts (table salt, sea salt, kosher, etc) if anyone could really tell the difference.

    Totally agree with your post Ruhlman! Unfortunately many of us have become so accustomed to the super saltiness of processed food we honestly don’t know what real food tastes like anymore. We’re a nation of ruined palates!

  • jbl

    @RKM: Wow! New York is looking more like California everyday. NYC is certainly not what it used to be.

  • Michelle

    I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that discussion with Keller! I agree with you: I eat only natural foods – no processed, no fast food, and recently had dinner with relatives who used some ‘prepackaged seasoning crap’ that rendered the dish so salty (to my taste buds anyway) it was inedible.

  • Matthew

    I recall reading that the long-life villages in Okinawa were filled with older adults who kept themeselves busy and consumed more salt than the average american.

  • Tags

    I looked at the Nutrition Facts on a can of Muir Glen organic whole peeled plum tomatoes and saw that there was 260 grams of sodium.

    Then I saw that the can contained 7 servings.

    1,820 mg of sodium for a 1 pound 12 ounce can of ORGANIC tomatoes.

  • rockandroller

    The “personal economy” to eat natural argument is complete bull. Both of my grandmothers lived in households where they had to feed very large families – many children and sometimes other relatives that lived with the family, with no car and on one, single income (the father’s), in the depression. And they ate and survived and usually had very good, balanced meals. Bread was made from scratch, which is about 1000x cheaper than buying it. Potatoes were part of almost every meal as they are cheap. Dandelions out of the yard were prepared and consumed as salad greens (now a “fancy” green in upscale restaurants). Beans were bought dried and cooked, another item that’s 1000x cheaper to make from it’s original preparation instead of buying canned, or worse, buying in a prepared dish like canned chili. A bag of beans, which has like 20 servings of beans, costs less than half of one can of canned chili that one person could easily eat.

    People no longer know how or are interested in cooking and preparing their own food. They come up with all kinds of arguments about why they can’t, but even in very poor neighborhoods, there are ethnic stores, or veg/fruit choices, or dried beans, or things that could be purchased instead of cheetos or fast food. But nobody wants to. You can’t drive through the bean store in your car, so they won’t do it.

  • Anne

    Is one salt better than another? Meaning is say Kosher better than sea salt?

    Great post!

  • sara

    To John Speno…

    I can appreciate that you’re suggesting there’s more than salt to blame for high blood pressure, and I’d be more inclined to agree if I actually consumed products with high fructose corn sweetener in them, and copious amounts of table sugar. I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all scenario.

    Salt is proven to be problematic in those with hypertension. Consume salt, your blood volume goes up as you drink more water to balance the salt consumed, which increases the pressure. One of the first meds they put one on is a diuretic, and that often knocks the pressure down, but diuretics are hard on the body. And personally I’d much prefer to not salt as I’m cooking rather than medicate. Maybe that’s just me.

  • Jose Canseco

    The recommended daily allowance of sodium (2000 Kcal diet) is 2000-3000 mg or 2-3g.

    Does anyone know what 3 grams of salt look like…it’s not much. Even food at the finest restaurants is heavy on the salt. Not heavy as in too salty, but definitely exceeding what is recommended.

    Our taste for salt, like anything can be desensitized. The more you eat, the more you need to perceive salt’s savory goodness.

  • Pierino

    As far as I know, nobody has ever died from second hand salt. So the whole NYC thing is stupid.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    You get used to a certain level of salt consumption. So, if you slowly begin to lower it then you do two things. the first is that you reduce your total salt consumption and the second is that a modest amount of salt becomes dramatic in its salt effect on the food you put it on.

  • Susan

    Here we go again with the salt thing. I didn’t grow up with a bunch of processed foods so I never got accustomed to a heavily salted FLAVOR in foods. Seasoning was apparently applied with a light hand in my home. Restaurant foods are so heavily salted and seasoned that I’m sure I wouldn’t know what I was eating if not for the texture of the food! I don’t care to eat out often unless I order a salad and why bother for that.

    I agree, we do need some salt for our health, just not as much as used on foods in restaurants or processed prepared foods. I agree with Paul K, the more you lower your salt consumption, the more dramatic it’s effect when you do use it. Also, you actually learn to appreciate the natural flavor of many of the foods you eat. Even some of the commercially grown foods! (which I find aren’t all that bad..and it’s especially ironic when those who condemn them gobble vitamins by the handful..which is an unnatural people fertilizer, of sorts)

    Oh, and tomatoes are better with pepper, not salt. Grapefruit and melons, they need salt..but just a little.

  • Mantonat

    I buy coarse sea salt, kosher flaked salt, and occasionally also small containers of specialty salts like smoked salt, Hawaiian pink salt, or gray salt. I haven’t pruchased table salt in ages. In addition to having a greater range of minerals than table salt, coarse salts have less sodium by volume – meaning that a teaspoon of flaked salt will have less sodium than a teaspoon of table salt.
    So rather than being suspicious of “gourmet” salts, try them on simple foods like salads or fresh vegetables to see how you like them. At the very least you will be getting more trace elements and less sodium, even if you don’t notice a flavor difference.
    I use a salt grinder at the table and I also make my own herbed salt by mixing course sea salt with fresh chopped herbs. Even more flavor, so less is needed.

  • Doug

    I’m sorry but the whole argument that if you don’t eat processed foods then you don’t need to worry about salt is complete bull. And I say this as someone who only eats “natural” foods by cooking local organic produce at home and eating out rarely.

    The fact is that too much salt is too much salt. Whether the salt was regular table salt added by ConAgra or rare sea salt added by your own hand it is still sodium cloride and has exact same effect on your body (gram for gram). What is true is that you probably wouldn’t add as much salt to homemade chicken noodle soup compared to what comes in the can. However, I would wager that most people who cook themselves get much more then the recommended allowance due to the fact that 3 grams is actually very small (measure it on a scale; I was very surprised personally). Or take this test: measure out 3 grams and only use that amount all day and see if you would’ve used more.

    Saying that people who don’t consume processed foods don’t need to concern themselves with salt is not intellectually honest considering it is the absolute level of salt intake (rather than the source) which matters and one doesn’t know how heavily people salt in their own home. I see that statement as trying to use science to fit one’s belief and speaks to the fetishizing that occurs in the local/organic food movement.

    I’m all for local/organic/sustainable/cooking from scratch (and practice it myself) but let’s be honest and not over state things.

  • Stephanie Manley

    So, is this adversion to excess likely to be healthly? Yes, absolutely yes. I personally love the variety of salts that there are. While I may not be a salt monkey pouring salt over everything, I completely despise individuals who will not realize the flavor salt does add to a dish.

  • Carrie

    So coarse salts have less sodium than table salt? I’m not understanding how that’s possible. And I’m still highly suspicious of these “trace elements” and whatnot. It feels like made up words to sell dressed up sodium chloride to people who are very concerned about what they eat.

    I would love to read some scientific reasons why table salt is bad and these other salts are good. Not trying to be difficult – just sincerely wondering!

  • Kimberly

    @ Ocean, “Not everyone can afford “natural” foods. Period.”

    A packet of seeds costs less than $5. You should try growing your own natural foods… it’s not as hard as one might think. In my city, there is a garden-share area where you can help grow and take home crops if you don’t have enough room at home. There is probably something similar near you! Nothing is better than food grown by your own hand!

  • Boonie

    I try and tell my wife this about the cans of soup she eats everyday…She’s vegetarian and trys to eat organically whenever possible, but then resorts to the ease of opening a damned can of NaCl!!!…UGH!!!…Thanks, Michael…I’ll be tacking this post on the fridge…

  • luis

    Doug
    If 3 grams is the recommended allowance of salt. It is a HUGE AMOUNT. that is 3000 mg bro. Other than what is naturally in the food I eat. A one or two finger pinch is it. If I am cooking to portion off and freeze I may add a couple more pinches but that is it!. Kosher salt does not take much and you have the damm salt taking over the flavor of the dish. Food should never taste salty. For me to hit the sweet spot seasoning a dish is a very incremental seasoning process. It go very low and slow until the dish is seasoned. Takes me half a dozen tries. Same as microwaving.

  • S. Woody

    My partner of nearly twenty-five years will be leaving the hospital tomorrow. Bruce had a triple by-pass on Tuesday… nothing to worry about, really, no heart attack, but the arteries were severely clogged and the surgery was needed in order to avoid terrible things in the future.

    Thing is, Bruce doesn’t have to worry about salt, because if anything he has low blood pressure. Fats, those we’re going to have to worry about, some. So we’ll be increasing the seafood a little, cutting back on the red meat a bit, stuff like that. His salt intake is not a worry. BUT EVERYTHING WE READ FROM THE HEART DIETICIANS SAYS SALT IS BAD FOR YOU!!!

    It’s not really Craig Claiborne’s fault. He had high blood pressure, his doctor told him to cut down on salt, he did so, futzed around with recipes to get food that tasted good without the salt, and then wrote about his findings. Claiborne never said that everyone should cut down their salt intake, he was just trying to help others like himself. But then the food pansies, the people who blame food for all their ills, started dancing the Spanish Panic, and the Great Fear of Salt began.

    Bruce’s one complaint about his stay in the hospital is that the food coming from the hospital kitchen is uniformly worse than bad. There is no flavor. The pork chop he was served for dinner tonight was so overcooked that shoe leather would have been juicier – I couldn’t even cut it for him. I’d ascribe all of this as a plot to teach everyone leaving the hospital to go vegetarian, but the veggies are all destroyed in the cooking process as well. And salt, the evil salt, was nowhere to be found on the plate.

    I’ve promised Bruce a roasted butterflied leg of lamb for dinner tomorrow, after I’ve rescued him. Some roasted potatoes, as well. I haven’t decided on a vegetable yet – perhaps Brussels sprouts, or roasted beets, he loves them both. All seasoned with a reasonable pinch or two of Kosher salt, the only kind I use in my kitchen, simply because it is so easy to use. His nurses have gone doe-eyed when I’ve discribed my cooking, my natural abstention from processed crud, my well-stocked herb cabinet, my dependence upon my own instincts to flavor what I serve. The best kudo I’ve won is when tonight’s nurse told me that the dietician (who I never have met, conflicting schedules and whatnot) said that there probably wasn’t much she could teach me on how to improve my cooking for Bruce.

    So tomorrow I’ll head to the hospital fairly early, planning to spend most of the day as I extricate Bruce and bring him home. Maybe it won’t be all that complicated, just getting him to use a walker for a while to help with his balance (we’ve already discussed getting him a cane for later, and we figure he can get plenty of exercise walking around the supermarket where I work, with a cart to steady him and all of my coworkers, his friends, keeping an eye on his progress). As for his diet, I’m already figuring out the future adjustments that need to be made.

    And I’m taking the panic of the food pansies with a grain of salt.

    (You had to have seen that pun coming.)

  • S. Woody

    Dear Carrie:

    Yes, coarse salts (such as Kosher salt) have less sodium than table salt. By tablespoon, not by weight.

    It’s a phyisical thing. Table salt, with it’s fairly small grains, nestles in together fairly compactly. There’s not a lot of air space in a tablespoon of table salt.

    On the other hand, Kosher salt has large grains. They jumble up against each other in that tablespoon, at odd angles, leaving a larger amount of airspace between the grains. As a result, there is less sodium in a tablespoon of Kosher salt than there is in a tablespoon of table salt. The sodium has been replaced by air. That’s volume.

    Now, of you were to weigh your salts, the results would be quite different. The Kosher salt would have the same amount of sodium as the table salt, because the airspace between the grains would not add any weight, ounce per ounce.

    Ten pounds of Kosher salt weighs the same as ten pounds of table salt, which weighs the same as a ten pound bowling ball, which weighs the same as a ten pound bag of feathers. Ten pounds is ten pounds. That’s weight. (Only the bowling ball and the feathers won’t taste as good.)

  • Mantonat

    Carrie, if you are suspicious of claims and would like to see some scientific evidence, look it up! There’s tons of info out there – just make sure you are reading objective articles.

    Sea salt or kosher salt or any other NaCl are exactly as Doug says above. They are all salt and have the same affect on your body, so people with sodium sensitivity should take proper precautions. But the idea that there are trace minerals in sea salt is nothing to be suspicious of. Sea water is a solution of NaCl and many other minerals, so when you remove the water, you end up with a residue that is mostly NaCl, but also has things like magnesium, copper, etc (and maybe even some bad stuff like Mercury).

    The reason coarse salt has less sodium by volume is simply because there’s less salt. A gram of any kind of NaCl still contains about the same amount of sodium. Because table salt is so fine, you can fit more of it in a teaspoon. It also makes it easy to overuse. So by switching to coarse salt, it’s easy way to filter out some of the sodium in your diet whie still getting enough to make things taste better.

    What I got out of Ruhlman’s post is that if you avoid processed foods and cook natural ingredients yourself, you control the amount of sodium. Sure 3 grams isn’t very much, but look how little is actually on that tomato slice. If you make a pot of soup, you may add a day’s worth of salt to it, but you’re not going to sit down and eat the whole thing at once.

  • Sandy Netherton

    When I moved to the south, country ham ladened collard greens was one of the tastiest things I’d ever put in my mouth. Luckily I don’t (and won’t) eat soul food everyday of my life – but it is a beautiful thing. Salt is this glorious, magical substance that works so well… in balance. And “thank you” to the first person ever to realize, “If I add a little of the white stuff, this rat tastes incredible!”

  • Robert Ogden

    I have a feeling that most restaurant chefs use salt as liberally as Anne Burrel on her show “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” We just didn’t know it.

    I wanted to invest in a salt mine after watching her show!

  • Jeannie

    Extremely well said and well timed. It has always annoyed me people who are afraid of salt in their food when they go to a fine dining restaurant under the premise their doctor told them to cut down on salt for all the reasons you just listed. Real food is a different kettle of fish than fast or boxed. Long live salt..

  • Rhonda

    Ok, so I have read all of these comments.

    Yes, if you eat processed food you will ingest too much salt and die.

    I like to call it “Darwin’s waiting room”. If you are eating that much processed food, well, you should just step aside. Let evolution take it’s course.

    However, the salt you ingest with these particular items is iodized salt which is really only good for cleaning copper pots and nothing else.

    I agree that some Chefs are too liberal with the salt and this is because they have been lazy bastards and not done their shopping correctly. If the food is fresh, it will need minimal salt. If not, the lazy Chef will try and cover up his laziness with salt. Not the perfect crime but it has been done for centuries.

    If your food tastes too salty, it is because the lazy Chef did not buy fresh that day and he has somthing to hide.

  • Rhonda

    Michael;

    FATWA and all, I always have the time to suport you or tell you are full of shite.

    xxxx

  • Rhonda

    S. Woody:

    My good thoughts are going towards you and your partner right now.

  • Sally

    I have congestive heart failure. My cardiologist told me that he didn’t care how much salt I used in cooking or at the table, but to avoid processed foods. The only time I have trouble is when I consume processed foods, eat at fast/chain restaurants or go too heavy on the soy sauce when I’m cooking Asian foods. My blood pressure has only been above normal once. Now if I avoid salt too much it gets so low I have symptoms.

    My doctor’s advice isn’t the norm, but it works for me and I think it would work for the majority of people, especially since only about 30% of people with hypertension are salt sensitive.

  • Jami Moss Wise

    Ages ago I read an article, somewhere, about a study that found that salting food at the table rather than during cooking provides a more intense salt flavor–thus, you could cut down on your salt intake by adding at the table rather than during cooking, because you would need less for the salt flavor to come through.

    Anyone else ever heard this? If it’s true it suggests another reason why processed foods are so sodium-heavy (more salt is needed if added during cooking, in addition to the lower quality of the ingredients.)

    I don’t think avoiding processed foods frees you from sodium overconsumption. I am a salt junkie, flinging handfuls of kosher salt onto everything that touches my plate. I like to think it’s because I have low blood pressure and need it, but my doctor says that’s just wishful thinking.

  • Kate NG Sommers

    God, I love salt and people who don’t use it in cooking at all make absolutely NO sense to me. Try oatmeal without salt, and then just add a pinch. TOTALLY BETTER! Jefferey Steingarten wrote a really interesting piece in one of his books about the percentage of people with hypertension that actually find improvement in their blood pressure by decreasing salt intake. It was astounding how FEW people it helped, but as I recall medical professionals don’t know who it will or won’t affect, so they tell everyone with high blood pressure to cut the stuff out.

  • Rhonda

    Ok, Chefs in Cleveland. I get it. Ha ha.

    Do your wives know you are all gay?

    Just asking.

  • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    90 comments…I guess I’m coming too late to the game here (what’s new). I’m one of those lucky ones who has been dealt with the low blood pressure genes. But, the thing about salt is, it is so, so controllable. As a cook, I put a small amount into the cooking process and let the people eating the food add their own. I live in Japan, so this can be a challenge as Japanese are used to getting their food seasoned to eat. I also cook for my little English school kids and the teachers mete out the salt and pepper (and cayenne!)–we teach them young about flavor restaint. The funny thing is that the kids go back home and say they want the salt we have at the school (French, Italian or Japanese sea salt depending on my mood) and the fresh ground pepper as well. Too much salt in the cooking process is a big mistake (save for charcuterie and salting/brining meat). We only serve really fresh off the field stuff, so you don’t need much beyond some good olive oil and a smidgen of salt.

  • ruhlman

    thank you everyone for the comments. can’t respond to all but did want to mention my stance on salt type. i’m not big on specialty salts. so i use kosher for everything. sometimes you need fine sea salt (for seasoning fish). sometimes you want a finishing salt for crunch, like fleur de sel or maldon. the only salt you really don’t want is iodized table salt. probably the most used salt there is.

  • Rhonda

    Thank you , Michael, for clearing this up.

    I promise, I will not tell Donna that you are gay (not that there is anything wrong with that).

  • Jennifer Soucy

    I had to back away from an online discussion the other day when the subject turned to the salting of pasta water. It turned into a question of health dogma vs. the art of cooking and went downhill from there…

  • Greg Becerra

    So what’s the plan on how to feed 6.5 billion (and growing quickly) people Natural foods? Nice in theory, or for only a limited group of people, but we must temper this with reality. So I don’t think the New England Journal of Medicine has foodies in mind when they publish findings. So these findings do make sense outside of this context. When you try to mass produce food, quality often suffers. But inside this context, yeah, ok, I’m with you.

  • JW

    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”.

  • Jill

    I think that no matter what you read or believe, this is a very individual issue. Like Michael said, when his mother visits, he goes easy on the salt for her. If you eat horrible food, your medical tests will show it and you probably should not eat more salt. I think of Julia Child and her husband both living into their 90’s. Do you think they concerned themselves with salt and fat intake? I doubt it. They probably ate great quality food, had good genes and kept an eye on their health.

  • Rhonda

    I just saw this, JW. Perhaps, I should address you as “Doctor”.

    Thank you for the information. I have definitely learned something today.

    However, Doctor, I maintain my stance. I believe, in my heart and soul that it is the type of salt that matters. Iodized salt is not the same as sea salt. Have your studies uncovered salt toxicity or iodine toxicity?

    I ask earnestly and not as an arrogant/asshole Chef. I really am interested to know from a scientific point of view.

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