A salt substitute is one of the first things many shop for when they are told to go on a low sodium diet. They are looking for a salt replacement. Once they have become used to the salt taste, it is not easy to break the salt habit. Over the years they have probably started to salt everything, even before tasting it. They are tasting the salt and not much else. So when they are told to give up salt, they have a hard time because nothing tastes good. It may not be that nothing tastes good, it is more likely that nothing tastes like the salt taste they are used to.
Today there are many salt substitutes available in grocery, natural food, and health food stores and online. However, most of them are made of potassium chloride. This may be okay for some of you, including the more healthy people, but not for all. More often than not, folks who have been told to follow a low sodium diet because of a health problem are trying to avoid a more serious problem. For example, common reasons for a low sodium diet are hypertension (high blood pressure), which can lead to more serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease and others.
There are some health problems and certain medications that advise you to avoid salt substitutes. They don’t always tell you why, but it’s the potassium chloride. You should also be aware that today, many low sodium processed foods like low sodium chicken broth are prepared with potassium chloride. It’s not just in salt substitutes anymore.
The recommended daily potassium is higher (around 4,700 mg per day) than the sodium per day (which is around 2400 mg). It’s about a 2 to 1 ratio. However, for many their sodium intake is higher than their potassium. Many should increase their potassium. Especially here in the US, many are potassium deficient. Eating more fruits and vegetables will usually take care of this. Potassium is important. Some of the things it does is help lower blood pressure, help the heart and other organs, help eliminate muscle cramps, help prevent bone loss, is good for nerves and much more.
However, there are certain health conditions and medications that cause the body not to excrete or get rid of the excess potassium, which starts backing up in the body. This may increase the risk of hyperkalemia which can adversely affect the heart rhythm. Most people with kidney failure, liver failure, heart failure, heart disease and many with diabetes should not use salt substitutes with potassium chloride. Also, many on certain blood pressure medications and other medications should not use salt substitutes. If you’re not sure, it’s important to ask your doctor or dietitian.
Those of you who can use a salt substitute may not like the taste, which is often described as having a metallic, bitter aftertaste.
So now what do you do?
Try using foods with a tangy taste. Lemons are a great way to replace salt. It usually takes just a few drops of fresh lemon juice to make the difference. Sometimes fresh lime juice will also do the trick. Vinegar also adds a tang which gives a bit of a salty flavor, and there are a variety of flavored vinegars to choose from. Use fresh herbs, especially fresh parsley. Also, try a little fresh basil or cilantro to perk up a soup, or sauce. You will be surprised how just a little of a fresh herb at the end of cooking can brighten the taste. Most importantly, use a variety of salt free seasonings (without potassium chloride). These are the key to more flavorful food, as most seasoning blends have salt in them.
So now when looking for a no potassium chloride salt substitute, you can also look for herbal or natural salt alternatives and you will be surprised at how flavorful a low sodium diet can be.