October 20, 2011

Getting Salted


I am so happy that so many of you have been venturing out to restaurants for low-sodium meals. High five. Up high. Down low. Low -so.

But salt happens.

You call the restaurant ahead of time. You send in a list of the things you can and cannot eat. You even bring a laminated version with you.

You order something simple, like a salad. Or maybe even something extraordinary, like fried asparagus.

You hear from the waiter that the kitchen has everything under control. You eagerly hold your fork and knife, awaiting your low-sodium meal.

The plate arrives. You take a bite. And like a sting from a bee, you experience the bursting flavor of salt.

You know it’s salt. Your taste buds have become hyper detectives when it comes to the pow of those crystals. But the kitchen was so seemingly aware and accommodating…so you question your intuition.

You take a few more bites. Some are saltier than others. Some are down-right salt-free. And you’ve now officially entered the ultimately confusing culinary twilight zone. You’ve been salted.

What just occurred in this scenario is a common and understandable kitchen mistake. The waiter, the line cook, the sous chef, and the head honcho all prepared your meal with care. But at some point, that plate of unsalted goodness landed in the hands of someone, whether it was the expeditor or another white coat. And as is very customary in the cooking world, a handful of finishing salt was sprinkled all over your plate.

It’s a matter of muscle memory and many chefs have told me that, even though they are now accustomed to cooking salt-free meals for me, they often find themselves unconsciously reaching for that salt bowl. Many having to slap their hands away or even start the meal over (if they didn’t catch themselves in time).

Ok. So what do you do if you get salted, in a minor or major way?

1) If your first bite sets of the salt alarms… tell your waiter that you think (somehow!) salt landed on your food. And by all means, feel free to send it back. I know, it’s awkward. But it’s your health that we’re talking about. And just remember to be gracious and thankful and explain again why you have to be careful. No one can argue with responsible eating. And a smile.

2) If you don’t want to cause a fuss… or, in the off chance the restaurant does not want to give it a second go, then set that fork down, order another drink and make a frittata when you get home.

3) If you aren’t totally sure about the salting…and you eat the meal and you have immediate salt anxiety, BREATH. It’s one meal and for most people, this won’t cause you to go to the hospital. Maybe some elevated blood pressure, maybe some extra water weight. But if you are keeping to your low-sodium diet for every other breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner, this is just a little bump. To combat that extra salt, I tend to eat extra low-sodium for a few days and add on a couple more minutes to my workout routine (to sweat out some of that water). But remember to consult your doctor and dietitian on how to best balance your low-sodium diet. Everybody and every body is different.

With these tips in mind, keep venturing out into that salty world. You may get hit by some unexpected a-salts. But you might also be treated to perfectly cooked steak with a fried egg on top. Salt-free.

Chow on.


Denise October 21, 2011 at 9:40 am

You can out-salt the salt by adding more potassium to your diet. If I have a salt bump in the road – I go for my fruit juice or raisins.

jessg23 October 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Good point, Denise. BUT!! For those with kidney disease or on certain blood pressure and heart medications, though, upping the potassium can be harmful or dangerous. So be sure to consult with your physician and dietition about your low-sodium diet and de-salting strategies!

Marcia October 21, 2011 at 10:58 am

Hi Sodium Girl,

Would you mind sharing with us all a sample of your laminated card that you use when dining out? I’ve been thinking about putting one togather but wasn’t entirely sure how to structure it nicely. I tend to be a very shy person so i have a hard time asking for anything special, always feeling as though i’m putting people out, or afraid that even if i do ask, they may mess up. Love your idea and hoping it will help me be a bit more adventerous!

jessg23 October 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Will do! I’ll take a picture of it for next week! Stay tuned.

LaVerne Branson October 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Looking forward to seeing your laminated eating out card.

Kelly October 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

I would have to say that eating out causing me the most stress both at restaurants and at family and friend’s homes. People “think” they cook low sodium but in reality they don’t always know low sodium like I need to know low sodium. Thankfully I live in the middle of no where so my eating out options are limited and I love to cook so that really helps me keep things under control. I also try to always have a little container of homemade salad dressing in my purse so when all else fails, I can have with a salad. Not my favorite options but sometimes it’s the best I can do. I would appreciate any and all helpful hints for dining out.

Lisa August 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Unfortunately for me, I would/do have an immediate reaction to unknown salt or being “salted”…. I have only tried with one resturant here in town “Texas Roadhouse”. They butcher there own meat, and I have a friend that was a chef there( so got the inside scoop on what they do to their meat), however I still have my hubby ” test” the food first before I even risk it… I have also made the mistake of thinking salad was “safe”….and when I was in a full blown vertigo attack after eating 4 bites…do to it tasting strange I knew there had to be something on it…did some research and found out some resturants use a salt based preserveitive on lettuce and salad fixings….luckily I have re-found my love for cooking…your site has been very helpful…..

Harriet April 21, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I have been there many, many times. I was once in an NYC restaurant for a business meal, and ordered very defensively (plain grilled fish with no sauce, salad with just balsamic vinegar on it). The waiter was very attentive and wrote everything down, so I thought I’d be OK. But when the salad arrived, it tasted WAY TOO GOOD. I questioned the waiter who insisted there was no salt in my food, but when I checked the plate under the greens, there were distinct grains of salt sitting in the puddle of vinegar. They replaced the salad, but I couldn’t understand why somebody had sprinkled salt on it to begin with. A couple of years later, I saw (through an open kitchen door) a prep cook at a bistro-type restaurant actually doing it. He was plating salads, and before sending each one out, he reached into a bucket of coarse salt and threw some on each one. I’m willing to bet that this practice is routine at a lot of restaurants.

The moral of this story is that restaurants put salt on EVERYTHING, because they know customers like it. A lot of this behavior is so entrenched that even if the waiter faithfully submits your order for salt-free food, it may still be getting added without their knowledge. Restaurants are also often unaware that many of their staple ingredients, like canned tomatoes, have a lot of salt in them. They are just not accustomed to reading the labels as we do.

The way I deal with this is to eat out very seldom. I bring all my breakfasts and lunches from home, and eat all dinners at home except for special occasions. At those times, I don’t try to be low-sodium and compensate by taking a Lasix afterwards.

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