Get better tasting food without salt

Spices make great rubs for meat and can add flavour without needing lots of salt.

Spices make great rubs for meat and can add flavour without needing lots of salt.

As we age, our likelihood of having issues with blood pressure, fluid retention, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease increases. For all of these conditions, a lower salt intake is beneficial. 

How much do we actually need? The recommended daily intake is 2300mg of sodium, which is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt. This is the total for salt from all sources, not just the salt we add when cooking or to meals. (There are some people who require a higher salt intake for medical reasons - if that's you, please do not reduce your intake after reading this article.) 

Many processed foods are high in sodium. Some people use these extensively, and are at risk of excessive intakes as a consequence. If you are unsure which foods contain considerable amounts of salt, cast your eye over this list - herb salts, stock, stock cubes, Bovril, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, flavour sachets, powdered soup mix (such as cup-a-soups), instant noodles, processed meats (ham, bacon, salami etc), cheese, crackers, some breakfast cereals and some breads.  

Having fresh herbs on hand means more flavours in your food.

Having fresh herbs on hand means more flavours in your food.

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Another way we increase our salt/sodium intakes is by using salt in cooking and/or applying a liberal amount of salt (usually without even tasting the food) to the prepared meal. 

So what is left to flavour foods with? Well, my first advice is that how frequently we use high-salt flavourings/foods is important. If the answer is "not often", then this is not such a problem. If the answer is "I use a lot of them almost everyday", then I encourage making some changes. 

Some readers may be surprised to see bread on the list. Bread has a medium salt content - it is added for flavour, but it also helps as a preservative to keep bread fresher for longer. If, like me, you "love" bread, then look for low salt toppings and continue to enjoy those sandwiches.

To find low salt choices, look at the nutrient panel on your selected item. Salt is listed as sodium and is usually towards the bottom. Aim for products with low sodium (<120mg per 100grams) or those with medium sodium (120-600mg/100g). To calculate how much salt is in the product, multiply sodium by 2.5. For example, 100mg sodium is equal to 250mg of salt. Better still, choose products labelled as no added salt, unsalted, low salt/sodium or reduced salt/sodium.

The dilemma is, then, how do we flavour food without salt? There are many natural flavourings – think fresh garlic and/ or ginger; lemon or lime juice (add to sweet and savoury dishes); black, white or lemon pepper; onion; spices; and herbs, fresh or dried. All types of vinegar are also great for additional flavour.

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On making the switch to using less salt, initially it may be a struggle and you miss the taste of salt. But it will not take long before you will be enjoying the new flavours or the natural taste of food.

Suzie Konijn is a NZ Registered Dietitian


2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground black pepper 
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder 
1 tsp dry mustard

1. Mix all spices together. 
2. Rub on meat, potatoes, add to seafood, sprinkle on vegetables or noodles, use in soups.


3 tbsp celery seeds
2 tbsp crushed oregano
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp crushed dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp ground bay leaf
1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together. 
2. Add to meat, fish, chicken or vegetable dishes.

Suzie Konijn is a NZ Registered Dietitian.

 - Stuff


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