With a clear link between high sodium intake and increased blood pressure, salty foods have become a point of concern in health care-related foodservice establishments. The average sodium consumption for Canadian adults is 3,100 mg per day, which far exceeds the recommended upper per limit of 2,300 mg/day.
Sodium adds flavour to food, but is also used as a common preservative in processed and packaged foods. How are chefs in long term care and senior living environments able to lower sodium levels and still manage to make food taste great? We caught up with three experts to learn the tricks of the trade.
Corporate Chef Gary McBlain with Revera Inc. notes that low sodium cooking has to start with the ingredients that you purchase, and finds that everyone is looking to find lower sodium options. “Salt is the new sugar!” he says. Jason Horne, menu planning consultant for Silver Group Purchasing, agrees. When purchasing products from vendors, he looks carefully at the nutritional information, including sodium. It’s important to work with your sales representative to learn about the lower sodium options that are available.
Cleary, taste is still paramount for patient enjoyment, and McBlain says that “sometimes reduced sodium products just don’t taste as good as the high sodium products they replaced, which may lead patients to add salt to their foods.” How can you combat this dilemma? McBlain says “we ask our chefs to cook with fresh ingredients and to use herbs, spices and flavour ingredients like mustards to add flavour without salt.”
Horne adds “Spices and herbs, if used properly, can play an important role in modern food preparation. They not only add unique flavours to our food, but contribute color and variety as well.” There are some herbs that are sure-fire favourites. “Most of our residents prefer the classics like garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and oregano” says McBlain. “Most residents wouldn’t identify as liking more exotic spices like curry or cumin, but surprisingly they quite enjoy them when they are added to a meal.”
Horne recognizes the importance of catering to the multicultural taste palates of the residents. He finds that the “most popular trends at the moment are the spices and herbs that provide medium and savoury flavours, such as basil, celery seeds, cumin, fennel, tarragon, marjoram, mint, oregano, thyme, chives and dill.”
Ian Sarfin, CCC, Manager of Food Service Programs at Chartwell Seniors Housing REIT adds “when using herbs and spices, it is difficult to find ones that will suit everyone’s tastes. I find if you combine them in moderation so no one is overbearing, you can find a balanced flavour.”
Since sodium lurks in packaged foods, especially soups, sauces and frozen entrees, many foodservice establishments are making more foods from scratch. To combat salty soups, Horne says “all soups on our menus are made using a low sodium soup base that provides 78% less salt than usual broths. The result from taking this step is that we reduced the daily average sodium intake by 300 – 500 mg.”
Since sauces are also high in sodium, McBlain says that “instead of drowning items in a sauce or gravy, we will use a smaller portion of a more flavourful product.” Sarfin adds “I sometimes will dilute sauces more to cut the sodium and then add ingredients to thicken them or enhance the flavour.”
The message from these experts is clear – begin by sourcing products that have a good sodium profile, and cook with more fresh ingredients. Be creative with high sodium options by diluting sauces, serving smaller portions, or offering lower sodium foods as accompaniments for the high salt choices. Maple Leaf has a number of lower sodium options including Ready Link Breakfast Sausages (64000), 3.5oz Boneless Pork Chops (57422) and all products under the Healthy Selections brand. All are ideal additions to any healthcare menu.