Cut the salt: Processed foods with high sodium content get makeover in cookbook

As Canadians become more aware of the dangers of consuming high-salt foods, there is a new cookbook out that delves deeper into the subject.

“Hold That Hidden Salt” is by Halifax dietitian Maureen Tilley (Formac Publishing, $24.95, paperback). It goes beyond table salt and the use of it in cooking by turning to what she believes is the insidious overuse of sodium in processed foods.

“That also includes take-out fast foods like pizza, burgers and breakfast sandwiches,” says the 28-year-old, whose first cookbook, “Hold The Salt,” was released in 2010.

Tilley says that 77 per cent of the sodium we consume is from processed foods.

“Lots of the flavour from salt found in these foods in supermarkets such as soups, muffins, cereals and pasta sauces are there because it helps food companies to market their products.”

In the book, Tilley identifies processed products from popular convenience manufacturers.

Using the nutritional charts on such products as Quaker Muffin Mix (blueberry-buttermilk), she found that a 38-gram muffin contains 300 milligrams of sodium.

That is significantly lower than a Tim Hortons muffin which has 770 mg sodium, Tilley notes.

To help readers cut the sodium, she developed her own rendition of a similar blueberry muffin with 87 mg sodium.

Health Canada recommends a daily upper intake of 2,300 mg of sodium for an average Canadian adult, which is about 5 ml (1 tsp), and encourages Canadians to reduce that to close to 1,500 mg a day.

Observing this level is especially important for individuals with or at risk of high blood pressure, Tilley suggests.

“With the muffins it is difficult whether using baking soda or baking powder which are full of sodium,” she says. “It was a matter of … adding enough of one of them so it will rise but not too much that would put the amount through the roof.”

She created lower-sodium homemade alternatives for each popular processed food product she tested for sodium levels.

“I found that 1 cup (250 ml) of a Knorr soup contained 850 mg, over half the amount allowed daily,” she says. “What are you going to eat the rest of the day?”

To come as close as possible to the processed items in her recipes, Tilley “played around, relied on family, friends and colleagues to taste test and copied the basic ingredients on the containers but always lowering sodium levels.”

“Most reactions to my findings are for people to say they are completely unaware of sodium content on these products,” she says.

Tilley says processed food companies present appealing strategies to market their high-sodium products.

“They’ll claim that their foods contain whole grains, extra vegetables and even reduced sodium even though it is just 25 per cent less of the original product.”

A bonus is video clips which take readers behind the scenes with chef Michael Howell of Halifax and Tilley. Look for the video camera symbol next to the recipes in the book or check www.holdthesalt.ca/videos for a complete list.

Source: Canadian Press