The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 5, 2014

Flavorful Foods

No salt needed

By Chef Michele Koeniger-Holsten, CDM
Director of Foodservice, Raleigh Center

— Sodium in the diet (called dietary sodium) is measured in milligrams (mg). Table salt is 40 percent sodium; 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. That is not a lot if you consider a grilled cheese made with two pieces of American cheese (360 mg) and two pieces of wheat bread (440 mg) contains 800 mg of sodium.

Most people take in much more sodium in their diets than is needed. It has been estimated that American diets contain as much as 15 times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of sodium.

Sodium is a mineral that the body needs to function properly. It is also one of the electrolyte minerals conducting electricity when dissolved. It works closely with the other important electrolyte minerals, potassium and chloride.

Our typical diet tends to be so salt-laden that sodium is one mineral we seldom have to supplement. It is critical, together with potassium, for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, and for the correct balance of body fluids.  

High sodium intake is frequently linked to increased blood volume and high blood pressure (hypertension). This is especially so if the kidneys cannot get rid of excess efficiently, leading to a build-up of sodium, particularly if potassium levels are low, as potassium balances out some of the effects of sodium.

Excess sodium may also cause a dangerous buildup of fluid in those with liver cirrhosis, congestive heart failure or kidney disease.

Healthy adults should limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. Adults with high blood pressure should have no more than 1,500 mg per day. Those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and kidney disease may need much lower amounts.

The specific amount of sodium intake recommended for infants, children and adolescents is not clear. Eating habits and attitudes about food formed during childhood are likely to influence eating habits for life. For this reason, avoiding excess salt intake is a good idea.

When watching the intake of sodium, read labels carefully to determine the total sodium content. Canned, packaged and frozen foods can be particularly high in sodium.

When it comes to making flavorful foods without adding additional sodium, look to using fresh products, fresh herbs and spices, fresh citrus fruits, olive oils and creative cooking methods.

Sodium Benefits & Functions:

1. essential for regulating muscle contractions and nerve transmissions  

2. helps maintain proper balance of water and body fluids  

3. important for maintaining the proper blood pH  

4. plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure and volume  

5. needed for stomach function

High Sodium Additives and Foods:

- Table salt or sea salt (sodium chloride) · sodium salts such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrite, and sodium benzoate (added to food products) · seasonings such as soy sauce, garlic salt, onion salt, oyster sauce, stock cubes, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce · preserved meats such as bacon, ham, sausages · processed or canned or fast foods are generally high in salt, and therefore high in sodium.

Ginger Grilled Portobello Mushroom

(serves 4)

4 large Portobello mushrooms

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup pineapple juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger, peeled

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove their stems. Place in a glass dish, stem- less (gill) side up.

2. To prepare the marinade, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, pineapple juice and ginger.

3. Drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, turning mushrooms once.

4. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

5. Grill or broil the mushrooms on medium heat, turning often, until tender, about 5 minutes on each side. Baste with marinade to keep from drying out. Using tongs, transfer the mushrooms to a serving platter. Garnish with basil and serve immediately.

Farfalle with Mushrooms and Spinach

(serves 4)

6 ounces dried farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup sliced Portobello or other fresh mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach

1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese

1. Cook farfalle according to package directions. Drain well.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, mushrooms, and garlic; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until mushrooms are nearly tender. Stir in spinach, thyme, and pepper; cook 1 minute or until heated through and spinach is slightly wilted. Stir in cooked pasta; toss gently to mix. Sprinkle with cheese.