I recently read a review that suggested vegan baked goods are all pretty much inferior to baked goods made with dairy. Maybe for someone used to traditional baked-goods, that’s true. (And, in fact, I often adjust my cooking if I am preparing food for people used to a meat-and-dairy-based diet.) But the point I want to make is, when you change your diet, your preferences tend to change, too. The thing is, I don’t really care if my chocolate chip cookie tastes like it’s made with a pound of butter. I don’t want it to taste that way because it won’t taste good to me; it will taste greasy. If food is too salty or sweet, I find it unpleasant to eat. My tastes have changed as a result of changing my diet, and I’m not trying to replicate animal tastes or flavors from the past; I’m not trying to make my bean burger taste like a cow. High-fat, high-salt food doesn’t really give me comfort, and I sometimes find myself less appreciative than others of restaurants or cookbooks that specialize in vegan comfort food. I love great-tasting food, but my idea of what tastes good doesn’t depend on replicating the flavors of a meat-and-dairy-based diet. When I first became a vegetarian, these kinds of foods were considered transitional — foods to bridge the gap between an animal-based and plant-based diet, or foods to serve omni friends. Lately, it’s starting to feel like these foods are a kind of new vegan diet — one that is the same as an omnivorous diet, only cruelty-free. The race is on to create new vegan cheeses and meat analogs that more closely replicate animal foods, often with long and scary ingredient lists.
The more people who find their way from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, the better, and if this is the root of the current emphasis on comfort foods, then I’m all in favor. I just hope we’re not losing sight of the connection between diet and health, the pleasure of eating simple foods, and learning to taste and appreciate the real flavors of the foods we eat.
What about sodium?Do you ever think about sodium? Do you try to reduce your intake? Most of us get far too much sodium in our diets, exposing us to the possibility of high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attacks, kidney disease and certain cancers? Did you know that excess sodium leaches calcium from the body? If you're young and in good health, you may think you don't have to worry about stuff like this, but waiting until problems manifest isn't always the best method for dealing with them. And doctors are finding diseases such as these occurring in younger and younger people. The issue of sodium has come up for me recently as I've been doing recipe testing for someone, and finding the recipes much saltier than I'm used to. For recipe testing I make the recipes as written, and I don't usually mention the salt in my reviews unless someone else at the table complains. But many of the dishes taste pretty salty to me, which has me re-examining my diet.
I went to the USDA's most recent release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to see what the latest mainstream thinking is about salt. The general recommendation is this:
"Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults."
The following offers a little more detail:
"For adolescents and adults of all ages (14 years and older), the IOM (Institute of Medicine) set the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) at 2,300 mg per day. The UL is the highest daily nutrient intake level that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects (e.g., for sodium, increased blood pressure) to almost all individuals in the general population. The IOM recognized that the association between sodium intake and blood pressure was continuous and without a threshold (i.e., a level below which the association no longer exists). The UL was based on several trials, including data from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-Sodium trial. The IOM noted that in the DASH-Sodium trial, blood pressure was lowered when target sodium intake was reduced to 2,300 mg per day, and lowered even further when sodium was targeted to the level of 1,200 mg per day.46 An intake level of 2,300 mg per day was commonly the next level above the AI of 1,500 mg per day that was tested in the sodium trials evaluated by the IOM."
Americans, especially males, are getting substantially too much sodium in their diets. Many people consume double or even more than double, the highest recommended amount. Where is all this salt coming from? Table salt contains the following:
1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2400 mg sodium
1 teaspoon baking soda = 1000 mg sodium
But table salt and salty seasonings that you add to home-cooked food may be only part of the problem. If you are eating many purchased, prepared foods, including breads and other commonly store-bought items, you could easily be exceeding the salt guidelines. Here's a sampling of commonly consumed foods and their sodium content:
Breadcrumbs, seasoned, 1/4 cup - 795 mg
Baking powder, 1 teaspoon - 488 mg
Baking soda, 1 teaspoon - 1,000 mg
Plain bagel - 561 mg
Capers, 1 Tablespoon - 255 mg
Pesto, basil, 1/4 cup - 730 mg
Soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon - 914 mg
Soy sauce, light, 1 Tablespoon - 660 mg
If we eat a lot of snack food, restaurant food, commercial baked goods, etc., we could be getting much more salt than is healthy. Even if we eat mostly home-cooked food, relying heavily on high-salt seasonings also can lead to problems. But what happens to flavor when salt is reduced?
I've been reducing salt in my cooking for years, and at first, everything tasted bland. Then, after a short adjustment period, the real flavors of the food began to intensify for me, and too much salt became an unwelcome distraction rather than an enhancement. When a small amount of salt is used to bring out a food's flavor, it's completely different from when salt IS the flavor. I remember when my mother-in-law had to go on an extremely low salt diet for health reasons, one of the foods on the restricted list was celery. Celery? I couldn't believe it at the time. Celery didn't seem like a high sodium vegetable. Now when I bite into a piece of celery, I can taste the saltiness.
I still use salt, but very judiciously. If anyone wants more, they can always add it at the table. In fact, you will probably consume less salt if you greatly reduce cooking salt (including salty condiments like soy sauce) and add a light sprinkle at the table. Having salt on the surface of the food gives your tongue the impression that the food is saltier than it is. Other foods that taste salty can add a lot of flavor with less sodium. Compare 1/2 teaspoon of salt (1200 mg) with one tablespoon of capers (255 mg.). When buying canned or jarred foods like beans or tomatoes, I choose the no salt added varieties, and if I buy prepared soup stock, it's always the low-sodium kind.
Salt, like sugar, is an addictive substance, and hard to give up. You can compensate by adding more aromatic seasonings like onions, garlic, herbs and spices. For example, I found an amazing, organic salt-free seasoning mix at Costco that we use on everything from broccoli to popcorn, if we want to bump up the flavor. Most vegetables taste delicious to me plain, but if I'm feeling creative, I may add grated garlic, fresh lemon juice and zest, toasted sesame seeds, or green onions and herbs. Real food tastes so much better to me now, I don't miss the salt.
Thoughts about gun control
Time to reflect