Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Hold that Hidden Salt!

[Full disclosure. I was sent this book by the author]

Today's guest post is from my office's Registered Dietitian Mark McGill. Mark's been spending a great deal of time these days in the kitchen, in part because I keep on giving him cookbooks for review. Today's example comes from registered dietitian Maureen Tilley who after coming to one of my talks, asked if I'd like a copy of her books. Reading Mark's review, I'm glad she did:

Maybe it’s because you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or are at increased risk of stroke or heart disease.

Perhaps you simply want to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Whatever the reason, the question I hear on a regular basis is: How do I lower my sodium intake? Throwing away the salt shaker is a great start, but given the incredible saltiness of most supermarket purchased packaged foods, it’s often not enough.

What’s the solution?


Registered Dietitian and author of Hold That Hidden Salt! Maureen Tilley understands this and has created a cookbook that provides "recipes for delicious alternatives to processed, salt-heavy supermarket favourites".

Canadians average 3400 mg of sodium per day with 75% coming from processed foods. The average adult needs only 1500 mg daily. So why is there so much sodium in our food supply? According to Maureen, it’s to generate profits for salt manufacturers and food companies who use it to cheaply preserve foods and improve their flavour. Food companies argue that without the amount of salt they’re using their products would be tasteless. They’ve even attempted to demonstrate this by providing product samples without salt to show how ‘poor’ they are without it. What they conveniently forget to mention is that if they were required to reduce the amount of sodium they would have to switch to more expensive substitutions which would negatively affect their bottom line, substitutes that they don’t add into the foods with the removed sodium.

If you’re trying to reduce your home’s sodium intake, I highly recommend picking up Maureen’s book. It is well organized, easy to read and if nothing else will get you cooking more foods from scratch – something we should all do more frequently if we want to live healthier lives (and save money!).

The book begins by explaining how to determine the amount of sodium in a food accompanied by a list of which foods are high in sodium. Some are more obvious than others – e.g. frozen meals are a main culprit whereas breads may not come to mind as quickly but are often quite laden with the stuff. Also discussed are daily sodium requirements by age, and easy to follow explanations of high blood pressure and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) dietary guidelines.

Recipes are divided into the following categories: Breakfast Foods and Breads, Snacks and Appetizers, Soups, Salads and Side Dishes, Condiments, Dressings, Sauces and Seasonings and finally, Main Dishes. In each section, Maureen presents a brief commentary on why a type of food (e.g. salsa, chip and veggie dips, meatballs) is high in sodium and an accompanying nutrition facts panel based on a specific example (e.g. Old El Paso Salsa, Ruffles Dip, President’s Choice Blue Menu Lean Italian Beef Meatballs). She then suggests alternative made-from-scratch versions that are lower in sodium. How much lower? The following examples are particularly eye-opening:

Knorr Frozen Shrimp, Asparagus and Penne (1300 mg per 340 g serving) vs. Maureen’s Garlic and Basil Shrimp Medley recipe (141 mg per serving).

Quaker Blueberry Muffin Mix (300 mg per 38 g serving) vs. Maureen’s Blueberry Bran Muffin recipe (87 mg per 54 g serving).

Quaker High Fibre Raisins & Spice Oatmeal (220 mg per 43 g serving) vs. Maureen’s High-Fibre Oatmeal recipe (37 mg per serving)

Heinz Ketchup (140 mg per tbsp) vs. Maureen’s Ketchup recipe (9 mg per tbsp(

I prepared two recipes: curry, lentil and sweet potato burgers (p. 117) and cinnamon garlic sweet potato and turnip fries (p. 74). Both recipes were easy to follow and took less than 45 min (prep and cooking time). The burgers were tasty, filling and high in fibre (7 grams per burger) while the curry paired well with the sweet potato. The fries were certainly different as using cinnamon and garlic together is not something I’ve tried before. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination, though I found the cinnamon over-powered the garlic as I was eating them. I only really noticed the garlic about thirty minutes later. I prepared them for my younger brother (who is a very picky eater) and my mother on two separate occasions. Both enjoyed them and stated that they would have them again. As for the sodium: We saved 378 mg per burger (compared to M&M Angus Beef Burgers) and 283 mg per serving for the fries (compared with McCain Superfries Xtracrispy Straight Cut Fries).

Some may argue that they need to add salt to food to make it taste good. The reality is food tastes good without salt – we’ve just become accustomed to food containing too much of it. It is possible to retrain your taste buds to like foods without added salt, to experience foods as they were meant to be enjoyed. As Maureen correctly points out: “After a couple of weeks of moderate daily amounts of salt, you’ll find that many of the items you used to find ‘normal and ‘tasty’ will seem excessively salty.”

In the end, I can confidently recommend this book to not only those looking to reduce their sodium intake but to anyone who wishes to live healthier by consuming less processed food and more home-cooked meals.

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  1. Anonymous8:47 am

    I gave up salting foods a few years ago. Now about the only thing I add salt to are mashed potatoes - somehow they just need it - but since I prefer sweet potatoes to "white" potatoes that doesn't happen very often. These days I even find many store bought slab cakes taste salty and not sweet - very sad. Thank you for this review - I never would have found this gem otherwise.

  2. My family never added salt to anything so neither do I, and I also make a big effort to avoid sodium-high processed foods (and processed foods in general)...but I was very interested in this article I read today ( that says heart attack patients who convert to low sodium diets experience increased blood cholesterol and blood fat...?

  3. There isn't much evidence that salt actually raises blood pressure or contributes to heart disease, and if you have high blood pressure statins are more effective in reducing blood pressure than removing salt. On the other hand, we don't actually have any good evidence that salt is harmless either. Check out the salt wars in the NY Times:

    I guess if people make their own food at home, they will get less added salt, just as they get less added sugar and fat. But if I had to choose, I would definitely worry more about my sugar intake than my salt intake.

  4. I'm with you; salt is actually an essential nutrient (obviously most people get way more than they need, however)...sugar is completely unnecessary.

  5. Rhodia11:37 am

    In the absence of any particular health concern, and given that most salt in the typical North American's diet comes from processed food, if one is cooking from scratch using whole foods, is it really necessary to try to reduce the salt used in cooking?

  6. Great question.

    For many, certainly not.

    That said, the majority of us will one day develop a salt responsive medical condition. Might be best to have palates happy with lower sodium before that happens.