As we age, our metabolism slows down, senses weaken, and chronic health conditions are more apt to surface. While we can’t control our genes, we can control what we put in our bodies and good, healthy eating is the first step to aging gracefully. The good news is that it’s a snap to make smart, healthy eating choices to help ensure overall wellbeing. A great place to start is reducing the amount of salt in your diet.
What’s the deal with salt?
The recommendation for salt intake for adults, according to the American Heart Association, is about 1,500 mg per day. Following this guideline can have a huge impact on reducing the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and on overall heart health. This is particularly important for older adults who are at higher risk for heart disease and hypertension.
But reducing our salt intake can be challenging. First of all, we’re used to salt, which is no surprise. It is one of the oldest flavoring agents and has been used for hundreds of years as a preservative. In addition, because some salt is necessary for our bodies to function properly, and in our deep human past it was hard to come by, we’re born programmed to enjoy and seek out salt.
Ditch the salt, but not the flavor
Substituting other ingredients, such as herbs and spices, for salt will go a long way to keeping your body and brain healthy. Many herbs and spices have added health benefits, like bumping up nutritional components such as vitamins and minerals. They can add life to a bland dish, which can have the added side effect of helping seniors regain their appetites.
Rosemary packs a flavor punch. It is an extremely aromatic herb with a strong woodsy smell that some liken to pine and lemon. Add rosemary to soups, meat, and potatoes, and pair it with garlic and olive oil for a classic and flavorful combination. A hidden benefit to using rosemary in your cooking could be improved memory and the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Rosemary is a popular aromatherapy oil and is also used in alternative medicines.
Your new love affair with green herbs doesn’t have to stop at rosemary – think oregano, thyme, chives, basil, tarragon, sage, and mint! Oregano is often used in Mexican and Italian cooking. Thyme pairs well with chicken dishes, as does tarragon, and both work well with potatoes. Sage is typically found in poultry seasoning, but its homey scent can warm any dish. Mint is most often seen in Greek cuisine. If you don’t have your own herb garden, these bright herbs can be found in the produce section of most major grocery stores.
Turmeric and Ginger are in the same plant family, these spicy roots can add zing and brightness to your dishes. Found often in curries, turmeric is brilliantly colored orange and has an earthy flavor, and is often praised for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger is not just for Christmas cookies! A cuisine rebel, ginger can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Ginger paired with garlic will add an Asian flavor to stir fries, rubs, and marinades for meat. Try crystalized ginger chopped and added to cookies for real punch. Ginger’s hidden superpower is its long history of being used to combat motion sickness and upset stomachs. Both ginger and turmeric are widely available in grocery stores.
Easy to Find Salt-Free Seasonings
In addition to fresh herbs and spices, there are a number of salt-free blends to try. A simple shake can perk up any dish without any chopping and breaking the bank.
• Mrs. Dash
Anyone who has shopped in the spice aisle of the local grocery store will recognize this long-standing bastion of the salt-free seasoning world. These days, there’s a Mrs. Dash for just about any cooking style and flavor profile.
• Make Your Own
Why not put your own blend together? Try this simple recipe from Taste of Home.
• Add an Acid
The sharp taste of salt can be mimicked by acids like fresh lemon or grapefruit juice, and various vinegars. Infused and balsamic vinegars add a bumped-up flavor. Try Champaign or prosecco vinegar in salad dressings, with sautéed beans and even potato salad! A peach balsamic vinegar is also a perfect topping for a summer salad.
• Olive Oil
Olive oil has a lovely fruity and sometimes peppery flavor on its own, but an infused oil can add even more “oomph.” Try a lemon infused oil with a quinoa and tomato salad, or drizzle fish or steak with a garlic infused oil.
• Salt-free Blends
Of course, there are many blends of herbs and spices that skip the salt to try. Check your local purveyor of spices for their recommendations or explore your local grocery store aisles. An extensive collection is available through The Spice House – there is a style for every taste, savory and sweet!