Cravings for Salt and for Sugar
If you, like me, are either diabetic, overweight, or both, I'll bet your Doctor has told you, on more than one occasion, "Cut down on salt and stop using sugar." While it's easy to avoid adding sugar or sprinkling salt on our food, there are just too many places where salt and sugar hide. Processed meats, cheeses, prepared soups, Chinese take-outs, non-diet soda drinks, and even the lowly restaurant-prepared green leafy salads are all prime suspects.
Salt, is a conundrum Spice. Salt, chemically known as Sodium Chloride, is one of those minerals that are both beneficial and toxic to life. Also known by its chemical moniker, NaCl, salt in its various forms will be actively sought out by living creatures, instinctively. Everybody remembers putting out salt licks for wandering animals, especially in the winter months.
But there is a dark side: too much salt leads to liquid retention and in some cases, death.
Since ancient times, salt has been prized, either as an additive for foods or a preservative. Meat was regularly salted for long ocean or caravan trips between ancient peoples.
Our word for "money", salary, derives from a Roman custom of paying their troops in salt instead of hard currency.
For most of us in these modern ages, the foods we eat have been processed to include salt. Accordingly, we tend to overindulge our bodies in salt. While it is true that we need about 2.5 grams, or about 2500 mg salt daily for life, our modern foods typically give us more than the without our adding more salt.
Did you know that even salads served at restaurants are loaded with salt?
What do we use in place of Salt?
We could switch to some form of salt substitute. There are a number of readily available salt substitutes on the market, and almost all of them are based on some form of Potassium Chloride (KCl).
For most people for KCl is that it does stimulate our taste buds in a manner similar to NaCl salt. The down side is that for a significant number of us, KCl leaves a bitter, metallic after taste.
Commercial formulations include "NoSalt," straight KCl, NuSalt, and blends of NaCl and KCl, "SoSalt," a blend of KCl and lysine. All of those are designed to stimulate our taste buds to trick us into thinking we're tasting "salt."
But there are alternatives. If you go on-line, you'll find a host of articles that describe alternatives to Sodium Chloride (NaCl), notably herbs, citruses, and spices that also trick the body into believing its encountering NaCl.
While this article does not purport to be the "be all, end all" of salt substitutes, it recognizes that we do get a lot of salt 'naturally' through our processed foodstuffs.
Another downside of using Potassium Chloride-based salt substitutes is that the body does retain both NaCl and KCl. In the case of Potassium, we can easily overdose ourselves with Potassium and indeed 'poison' ourselves with too much Potassium.
Overdosing from Potassium is called Hyperkalemia. "Symptoms of hyperkalemia include but are not limited to, muscle weakness, tiredness, tingling sensations, or nausea. Severe overdoses can cause slow heartbeat, weak pulse and severe drops in blood pressure. pains, general feeling sick, and diarrhea. Other symptoms include: fatigue or weakness, a feeling of numbness or tingling, nausea or vomiting, problems breathing, chest pain, palpitations or skipped heartbeats.
But how can we eliminate adding salt to our diet without also adding Potassium? One of the most effective ways is to use a salt substitute that is potassium free, but still manages to stimulate our salivary glands is the same way that salt does.
We've already mentioned the more popular commercially available salt substitutes: NoSalt, SoSalt, and the like. All of these types of products are various forms of Potassium Chloride.
As we've also noted, most people don't notice the taste difference, a sour, metallic aftertaste.
Coupled with the possibility of getting too much Potassium in your diet, these Potassium-based salt substitutes are not that healthy for you.
Fortunately, there are other salt substitutes on the market. These operate by stimulating receptors in the mouth that make us feel like we've ingested salt. The most effective contain some form of citrus or citric acid.
I have tried six commercially available products, Bragg ™ Sprinkle Herb and Spice Seasoning, Mrs. Dash ™ Salt Free Seasonings, Lawry's ™ Salt Free 17 Seasoning, Benson's ™ – Table Tasty Salt Substitute, Kirkland Organic No-Salt Seasoning, and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends Magic Salt Free Seasoning.
All are acceptable alternatives to Potassium-based salt substitutes.
However, you may find others. There are even recipes on-line for concocting your own salt substitute that are sodium-free.
In this article, when I call out for "salt substitute", feel free to use whatever brand or version suits your fancy.
There are a number of sugar substitutes on the market. Some contain natural ingredients, some contain only artificial ingredients.
I have tried most of them, and try to stay away from any artificial sweetener containing aspartame and similar artificially created ingredients.
Processed natural sweeteners, made from naturally occurring plant extracts, such as Swerve ™, Stevia ™, Monk fruit and sugar alcohols (such as erythritol or xylitol) tend to taste sweeter than sugar (Stevia ™ is 200X sweeter than sugar). However, there are downsides for most of them.
Stevia ( Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni )
The Stevia plant gets its sugary sweetness from a series of compounds, especially steviosides and rebaudiosides, that are estimated to be 150-400 times sweeter than common sugar. Because of the ease of processing, the commercial product named Stevia ™ is usually made from Rebaudioside-A, or just "Reb-A". Reb-A does, however, leave a bitter, unpleasant licorice aftertaste.
Other Rebaudiosides, notably Reb-D and Reb-M, are more "sugar-like", and do not have any aftertaste. Reb-D is the most prevalent, and sugar substitutes containing Reb-D are now appearing in the marketplace. Their containers are clearly marked with "Reb-D". One such product is Stevia Naturals ™, that has a taste very close to "real" sugar.
Erythritol, in granular form, dissolves slowly in liquids, but the powdered "confectioner's" form is preferred: it dissolves much quicker.
Erythritol is not generally a 1: 1 replacement for sugar. The ratio is more like 1: 1 ?, requiring a third more Erythritol than its sugar counterpart. However, the aftertaste of straight Erythritol is not as satisfying as sugar.
Monk Fruit Extract
Combinations of Monk Fruit extract and Erythritol do indeed taste much like sugar, and are affordable and acceptable alternatives to sugar, especially in baking. I've used this commercially available combination to make very good pancakes and waffles.
Xylitol is one of the compounds categorized as sugar alcohols. Chemically, sugar alcohols have a molecular composition that replicates and combines traits of both sugar and alcohol, hence the name. Naturally occurring compounds, sugar alcohols can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Humans also produce small amounts of Xylitol by way of normal metabolism.
However, Xylitol is not calorie free.
Sugar contains, on average, 4 calories per gram.
Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram.
Xylitol has 40% less carbs than sugar, but it still has carbs. Because of its low glycemic index, Xylitol is a very good sugar alternative for weight management and for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
Sugar alcohols tend to have low glycemic indexes – the measure of how the compound elevates blood sugar. Xylitol has a glycemic index of 7, while sugar has a glycemic index of 60-70.
Sugar alcohols, although technically a carbohydrate, tend not to raise blood sugar levels while giving the impression that you are ingesting sugar. Sugar alcohols are popular sweeteners for soft drinks and for low carb products.
You use Xylitol as a 1: 1 direct replacement for sugar.