The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 01.22.05


Epidemic on the horizon! Food kills! And hold the salt!

We start the year with yet another warning from healthcare experts that what we are eating is killing us.

Most worrisome is that there are predictions that a third of the global population will be suffering from high blood pressure, if they are not already. I can feel the pressure rising as we speak.

I have to ask -- is there nothing to eat that is not bad for us? Experts continually tell us to stay away from anything that tastes and makes us feel good.

Avoid sugar, salt, fat, caffeine and carbs and all will be well, they say. Exercise till you die from exhaustion and, above all, severely limit your total food intake. If you can burn more calories than you consume you will not only look good you will feel even better, if I understand my readings.

In the future it will be your ability to read that will dictate a healthy diet. Labeling is the modus operandi that will serve to protect the average consumer and the packaged-food makers.

Be warned -- your ability to understand what is good or bad for you will directly correlate to your ability to decipher an ingredient and product label. It's sort of like those little yellow plastic signs that tell you the floor is slippery when wet. You cannot sue when properly warned despite a hip-breaking fall.

Enter the world of sugar, salt, and fat at your own risk is what the labels are telling you. Don't blame us if the coffee we served you is hot enough to peel the skin off your arm -- the warning that our coffee is hot is right there in the side of the cup. You saw it didn't you?

I mean not to make light of the serious consequences of eating poorly. I mean only to highlight the importance of eating everything in moderation. To curb hypertensive conditions, the following information may help.

Reducing the amount of sodium in the diet can help bring blood pressure levels down.

Sodium, of course, is essential for good health. While adults average 4000 to 6000 milligrams daily, the recommended daily limit for the general public is only 2400 milligrams. Someone with high blood pressure should consult a doctor to see how much sodium should be consumed daily.

As a guide, however, 2000 to 3000 milligrams (2 to 3 grams) is enough.

A common dietary source of sodium is salt. Sodium is one of two minerals that make up salt (the other is chloride).

One teaspoon of salt contains a whopping 2300 milligrams of sodium --an entire day's supply.

But sodium is also "hidden" in the diet in other foods, mainly processed and packaged foods.

What Food Labels Mean With Regard To Sodium

  • "Low sodium" means the food has 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • "Very low sodium" means the food has 35 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • "Salt-free" means the food has 5 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • "Light in sodium" means the food has at least 50 percent less sodium than the original version of the food
  • "Reduced sodium," means the food has at least 25 percent less sodium than the original version of the product
Any ingredient with the word sodium in it, such as disodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, sodium nitrite, sodium proprionate, and sodium sulfate, means that the food likely has high sodium content.

Baked goods made with baking powder or baking soda may also be high in sodium.

Remove the salt- shaker from the table and make meals tasty and flavorful with herbs and spices. While cooking, experiment with fresh and dried herbs, such as onions, garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary, black and red pepper, and onion and garlic powders. These all add flavor without adding sodium.

Beware of salt substitutes. Not all salt substitutes are sodium-free. Some contain sodium, but in a lesser amount than regular table salt.

Eat adequate amounts of potassium-rich foods. Potassium, another mineral essential to good health, works in concert with sodium to regulate blood pressure. Studies have shown that people who consume more potassium have lower blood pressures than those who consume less.

Rich sources of potassium include many fruits, such as cantaloupe, bananas, watermelon, oranges and orange juice, as well as potatoes, spinach, and zucchini. (Important note: if taking medication for high blood pressure, such as diuretics, consult a doctor before using salt substitutes that contain high amounts of potassium.

I have previously suggested replacing salt in recipes with herbs and here are two ideas on how to make your own salt free flavor picker-uppers.

Salt Free Surprise

2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon each dried basil and oregano
1 teaspoon lemon rind
Put ingredients into food processor and whirl. Store in a jar and add a few grains of rice to prevent herbs from clumping.

Fresh Salt Substitute

3 tablespoons chopped basil
2 teaspoons each of summer savory, marjoram and sage
2 teaspoons celery seed
1-teaspoon thyme
Combine in food processor or blender and whirl until combined. Use in marinades or sprinkle on everything.