Tuesday, January 13, 2009

To Salt or Not To Salt


It’s no wonder that salt has gotten a bad reputation lately. We hear salt blamed for everything from heart problems to excess weight to that uncomfortable bloated feeling. We see the term “low-sodium” so often applied to diet plans or products that we believe we must avoid or at least decrease our salt intake in order to be healthy. But is this really true?

Not exactly.

After all, salt is essential for healthy digestion, balancing internal fluid levels in the body to prevent swelling and proper functioning of the nervous system.

And did you know that adequate salt levels are a factor in getting a good night’s sleep and preventing muscle cramps?

Without salt, calcium absorption is hindered, leading to osteoporosis. Salt even plays a vital role in sexuality and a healthy libido.

But here’s the catch: we’re not talking about regular, old table salt.

Table salt, the kind that is ubiquitous in shakers on restaurant tables and in pantries across this country, has been so processed and refined that it is devoid of nutritional benefits. Further, it can contain additives such as aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and other desiccants to keep it smooth-flowing and clump-free.

Even though iodine, a necessary nutrient to prevent hyperthyroidism and other diseases, has been added to table salt for almost a century, it is usually available in adequate amounts through other foods we eat because it is present in the soil where our food is grown. In the U.S., only the Great Lakes area has iodine-deficient soils that might warrant iodine supplementation for those communities. Most of us do not need iodine added to our daily salt.

Common table salt can contribute to heart disease, overload internal organs, and exacerbate hypertension. Some researchers believe it is actually toxic to humans and animals. Some even call it a poison.

Sea salt, on the other hand, can contain some 80 or so minerals and trace elements that contribute to overall health as well as fulfilling the body’s need for beneficial sodium.

Each sea salt tastes unique according to where it is harvested. Salt connoisseurship is a fun, new hobby that is catching on as awareness grows of the vast differences between industrially manipulated table salt and the restorative properties and savory flavors of sea salts.

Simply substituting sea salt for your regular table salt can result in a multitude of health benefits. You may find that you use less salt overall to achieve a pleasing taste because sea salt typically has larger crystals and a more intense flavor. Use it in cooking, on raw produce, on popcorn… anywhere you typically crave a salty sensation. It is especially pleasant when added at or near the end of the cooking process, or at the moment of serving.

Here is a great recipe to try out with sea salt. Just remember to have a light touch as you can always add more salt when you’re eating the meal but you can’t remove it if you’ve added too much during the preparation stage. Try making the recipe without adding salt, and then simply sprinkling your favorite sea salt over all just before eating.

Chicken Piccata

Ingredients

1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. broth or stock or water
2–3 pieces chicken
Sea salt
Pepper
1 shallot, minced, or 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
1 lemon
1/2 acorn squash*, cut into1-inch chunks
2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray inside of 2-quart Dutch oven and lid with olive oil.

Rinse rice in a strainer under cold water until the water runs clear. Pour into pot with broth or stock and smooth into an even layer. Rinse chicken pieces and place in pot next. It is ok if they are slightly submerged. Lightly salt and pepper chicken. Then sprinkle with minced shallots or garlic, parsley, and capers. Cut lemon in half at the equator and slice one half into rounds. Top chicken with a layer of lemon rounds.

Drop in squash and lightly season with sea salt and pepper. Top with broccoli. Apply another light seasoning with sea salt and pepper and squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon over all, taking care to remove the seeds.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Wait until you smell the aroma escaping from the oven, wait 3 minutes, and then check the chicken for pinkness. If it is at all pink, put the lid back on and the entire meal back in the oven for another 5–10 minutes. Serves 2.

*You may use any kind of squash you like or substitute another vegetable. No need to peel the squash as the peel will come off easily once it is cooked.



Elizabeth Yarnell of www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com