As medical research tells us, salt, while it’s the most common seasoning – or flavor enhancer – in the world, too much can cause problems. Researchers have found that using lemon juice and/or zest can help people reduce their sodium intake by as much as 75 percent, since lemon is a natural enhancer that intensifies flavors.
Too much salt
Salt is one of the oldest cooking ingredients known to man. It has been mined and consumed for perhaps 10,000 years. Human beings, like many other animals, need sodium to survive and thrive, and it’s probably not a coincidence that it acts as a flavor enhancer. It makes our food taste better, in other words.
We do need it, but the problem doesn’t seem to be lack of sodium, at least not in North America. The problem is that we consume too much. The FDA recommends an intake of about 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day – but the average American gets about 3,400 mg.
• Too much salt leads to high blood pressure;
• High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other heart diseases;
• It has been linked to other diseases such as dementia.
Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says that reducing the amount of salt we eat is crucial. “There are few interventions that could potentially have as great an overall benefit to public health,” she says.
Even without taking medication, reducing salt intake can reduce blood pressure by up to 10 percent. It’s one thing to tell people to simply use less salt. Finding a healthier replacement is a better solution, and one that people are more likely to use.
Researchers conducted taste tests to see if people really would use less salt if their food was flavored with lemon juice or zest. They tested a wide variety of foods and dishes, from soups, salads, meats, fish, seafood, vegetables, and starches like potatoes and rice.
• The researchers gradually reduce the sodium content of foods, replacing it with lemon juice, zest, or both;
• Tests were conducted on food professionals who used their discerning taste buds to gauge the results;
• The most successful tests, interestingly, were on protein-rich foods such as beef, where lemon zest was used as a rub.
Master Chef Karl Guggenmos, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University and also a consultant on the project, commented in an interview. “It’s long been known that you can actually reduce the salt content of the meal by introducing some lemon, because the lemon is like a flavor enhancer. It intensifies the taste of salt; that’s what people love.”
He called the results “exciting” and indicated that more studies should be done to determine healthy alternatives for common food additives like salt and sugar.