A long-established and popular way to enhance the flavor and richness of food is to add salt to the food.
The reason savory foods taste good is often due to the salt and fat content of the food. However, over the past decade the recommendation from health organizations to reduce salt (sodium) in our diets has gotten louder and louder. This recommendation is based on the extensive scientific research which has demonstrated that excess sodium is the likely cause of preventable heart attacks and strokes.
According to the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
“Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small quantities, provided that substantial sweating does not occur. On average, the higher an individual’s sodium intake, the higher the individual’s blood pressure. A strong body of evidence in adults documents that as sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure. Moderate evidence in children also has documented that as sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in the normal range reduces an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Therefore, adults and children should limit their intake of sodium.”
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines also state:
“Virtually all Americans consume more sodium than they need. The estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans ages 2 years and older is approximately 3,400 mg per day. Americans should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg per day depending on age and other individual characteristics.”
For more information, read the Dietary Guidelines (pdf).
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is often a key ingredient for people on a low-sodium diet, because it boosts the flavor of a dish while reducing the need for salt. Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid (glutamate), an amino acid which occurs naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, vegetables and dairy products. Glutamate is also produced in the body and is necessary for normal metabolism and brain function. Glutamate brings nothing new to the diet the glutamate naturally present in food and the glutamate derived from MSG are identical and the body treats them in exactly the same way.
Studies have shown that by increasing the level of glutamate and decreasing the level of salt, sodium content can be lowered by up to 40 percent, while still maintaining the desired flavor.