Sodium Extract: Thinking about Salt

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The chickens ruined it.

The town meeting was on target for being the shortest I’d attended in twelve years.  Every warrant article had passed unanimously with nary a peep, blink or cough.  Even the 17 million dollar town budget had passed for the first time in my memory with no debate.  I was overjoyed at the prospect of an early meeting end, some time with my children, and a reasonable bedtime for myself.

But then the chicken warrant was read.

45 minutes of discussion followed about the pros and cons of changing the current regulations to allow chickens on less acreage.  Everything from tick control to poop possibilities were presented and argued by the “defense” and the “prosecutors”.

All my dreams and wishes for the evening swished straight down the drain because of one local hotbed issue.

Salt Disagreement

In the same way, salt can be a source of immeasurable disagreement among even the experts.  Some say everyone should refrain from salt usage.  Others state that only folks with family histories of health issues need to worry.  Still more present arguments for why we need to keep salt in our diets.  It can be confusing and frustrating to try to sort out exactly what we should know and do.

Salt Facts

Salt isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself.  It provides flavor in cooking; it helps metabolize yeast in breads; it draws moisture from veggies and fruits when needed; and it tightens protein bonds, giving strength to dough and batter when we bake. In our bodies, salt helps our blood cells, our nerves and our muscles; and unfortunately salt isn’t something our bodies make, so we need to ingest it.

On the other hand, folks prone to high blood pressure, migraines, heart and stroke problems, and kidney stones have found that cutting back on their sodium intake helps their overall health.  In addition, studies do reveal that our bodies only need so much salt to function properly, and we have a tendency to eat way above that amount.

Salt Moderation

Sodium is naturally in a lot of the foods we eat, and simply eating fresh fruits and veggies and low fat meat and chicken and fish will provide our bodies with much of the sodium we need.  So, for myself and my family, when I cook, I don’t usually add salt.  Herbs and spices lend flavor to just about anything cooked or baked without any need for salt.  In most baked goods, you can almost always cut the salt by half and your baked product will not be affected in taste or texture.  Sometimes you can even omit it altogether.  When I do want to use salt, though, I judiciously use small amounts of coarse salt.  The coarse salt tends to give you that slightly salty flavor without overdoing it, and by reducing the amount and using the slightly large salt crystals, you do cut down  on your actual sodium intake, even if only by 25%.

Salt in Processed Products

Of course, most of our salt “problems” stem from the products on the grocery shelves which tend to have large amounts of either salt or sugar to both preserve and provide flavor.  The good news is that many companies are making low salt and reduced sugar versions of their products.  You just have to look for them and choose to use them.

A few years back my children discovered a breakfast muffin they liked, but I was horrified by the amount of salt in one muffin from the bacon, the salt in the batter, and the cheese.  So I revamped the recipe, omitting the salt in the batter and using reduced sodium products.  Of course, I also made other changes to fit my family’s allergies, but you’ll see those all below.

Breakfast in a Muffin

Original Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose white flour

1 tbsp white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 whole eggs

1 cup cream

1/2 cup melted butter

12 strips cooked bacon

12 medium egg yolks (they tell you to save the whites for another recipe)

1/2 cup cheddar, swiss or jack shredded cheese

Revamped Ingredients:*

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour

2 1/2 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp dried thyme (crush the thyme leaves in your hand before adding)

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp onion powder

3/4 cup liquid egg whites (I use the egg whites from the yolks needed later)**

1 cup soy milk

1/2 cup safflower oil or grapeseed oil or Smart Balance oil

1 tbsp Agave

12 strips cooked low sodium turkey bacon

12 small egg yolks

1/2 cup reduced fat reduced sodium shredded cheddar cheese

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin.  (I usually use “If You Care” muffin cups, but you can spray the tin or coat it with oil or butter.)

2.  Blend the flour, thyme, oregano, basil, pepper and baking powder together.  Set aside.

3.  Whisk the egg whites until frothy (which just means they’ll be bubbly and a little thicker looking).  Add the milk, oil, and Agave, and mix well.

4.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing quickly just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Put 2 tablespoons of the batter into the bottoms of each of the muffin tins.

6.  Insert a bacon strip in a circle into the batter of each tin and carefully put an egg yolk into the center of the bacon.  (If your yolk breaks, don’t sweat it.  It still tastes good, even if it doesn’t look as pretty when you cut the muffin.)

7.  Cover the muffins evenly with the remaining batter.  (I usually put 1 tablespoon of batter on top and then find that I can add about another 1/2 tbsp of batter to each muffin to finish up the batter.)

8.  Divide the cheese evenly on top of each muffin.

9.  Bake the muffins in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.  (The muffins will rise, and the cheese will be a golden brown on top.)

10.  Cool the muffins for five minutes in the pan before removing to cool.  To serve, slice the muffins in half vertically to reveal the pretty yolk and bacon strip inside.

*  As always you can substitute ingredients to fit your needs, so for example, you don’t have to use soy milk if you’re allergic.  Use another type.

** I separate the twelve yolks from their white ahead of time into a little bowl and use the whites for the egg whites needed in the batter.  Then I gently spoon the yolks out of the bowl into each of the bacon circles.

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