Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
We as yachties are surrounded by saltwater. We swim in it, fish in it, boat in it. We scrub our bodies with it to freshen our skin. Yet we spend a lot of energy trying to control this mineral it in our bodies.
One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium. The facts surrounding salt intake are disheartening. It affects more than just the feeling of extra weight gain. That is why we need to seriously take another look at sodium, where it is found and what we can do about it to live a healthier life.
Everything we consume has some form of sodium in it. For those of us watching our weight or on a heart-healthy diet, sodium is first on our watch list. I had two crew members and many guests over the years who suffered from heart problems.
The more sodium we consume, the more fluid will accumulate, putting excess burden on the heart and blood vessels. Too much sodium can lead to spikes in blood pressure. With that, the risk of stroke increases, kidney function decreases and our cognitive abilities take a hit. About 10 percent of all deaths in the United States are related to too much sodium intake, resulting in about 1.65 million deaths a year.
When the body has more sodium than it needs from nutritional sources, it will excrete it in the urine. But consume too much, and the body can’t keep up, resulting in swollen feet, puffy eyes, swollen tissues and fluid around the heart.
The ideal amount of sodium for a man with heart problems is 1,200mg a day. That’s about half a teaspoon, not much for those who enjoy the flavor of salt.
As chefs, we have to find healthier ways to flavor food. Start with the absolutely freshest foods available, steering clear of prepackaged or frozen meals. They contain a lot of added sodium as preservatives. If buying frozen veggies for the boat or crew, buy them without sauce and make sure the package says “Fresh Frozen.”
In fact, any product that will keep for weeks in the refrigerator should send up a huge red flag that it is loaded with sodium. Bacon and other processed meats are a big culprit here.
When cooking with chicken broth or chicken seasonings such as bouillon, be aware that those can have a lot of sodium, too.
Consider making homemade chips by dehydrating veggies. Slice veggies paper thin and slowly bake them or using a dehydrator. Sprinkle with herbs instead of salt.
Be sure to read all food labels. High sugar content can mask the sodium content so be sure to check every line on the food for sodium.
For healthier guests and crew onboard, limit prepackaged foods and ready-processed meats. And start weaning diners off the salt shaker. Mix some herbs in with it, a little at first, then more and more until there’s very little salt but lots of flavor.
A little known fact: It takes about eight weeks for our taste buds to adjust to less-salty food. In the meantime, step on the scale each day after going to the bathroom to see just how much of a difference sodium can play in weight gain through water retention. Seeing that benefit will make those weeks getting used to less salty foods just fly by.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.