Concerns about health and salt use have fueled sale of sea salts, but are they really different?

Healthy Salt? Debating the Benefits of Sea Salts

CONCERNS ABOUT HEALTH AND SALT USE HAVE FUELED SALE OF SEA SALTS, BUT ARE THEY REALLY DIFFERENT?

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

It’s hard to talk about health and salt in the same sentence, but every once in a while something comes along that forces the issue. This time it’s sea salts. The pitch being made by promoters is that sea salt contains all of the other minerals found in sea water, while regular table salt is processed to remove them. They claim those minerals are what make sea salt a healthy salt.

This is the point where I say, “Show me the evidence.”

What Makes Sea Salts Different?

All salt comes from the sea, so technically, it’s all sea salt. Some is evaporated from today’s oceans and salt water lakes, some is mined from deposits left from evaporated sea beds that are thousands of years old. When first collected the salt contains a variety of minerals, such as sulfate, magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Table salt is processed to remove the trace minerals and environmental impurities to create a product that has a consistent composition, size and taste.  Anti-clumping agents are added to many commercial brands so the salt flows freely. Iodine may also be added to provide a needed source of this essential mineral.

The first thing you’ll notice about see sea salt is that is isn’t always snow white. The color comes from the impurities that remain in it, like clay and volcanic ash, and the trace minerals. The next visual difference is the size of the crystals. They’re much larger than table salt, more like kosher salt, so don’t expect them to come out of a standard salt shaker.

If you put a few crystals on the tip of your tongue, you’ll find they don’t dissolve instantly. When they do, the taste may be milder or stronger than table salt, depending on the variety you’re sampling. Professional chefs say sea salts provide a fresher flavor to the foods they are added to, but you may not notice the difference.

Now for the big difference: Price. Sea salts cost anywhere from 2 to 10 times more that common table salt!

 Do Trace Minerals Make Sea Salt a Healthy Salt?

All of the other minerals found in sea salt are necessary for good health, but there are not enough of them in a teaspoon of sea salt to make it a useful source. And there are plenty of other ways to get those minerals, specifically from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low fat dairy products — all foods we need to eat more of.

The most abundant mineral in sea salt is sodium. In fact, sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt, and that’s the problem. Dietary guidelines recommend reducing sodium consumption to lower blood pressure and risk for stroke. Sea salt offers no advantage over table salt when it comes to lowering sodium intake.

To see whether people might use less sea salt than table salt due to the texture and taste differences, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada designed a study to measure that.  They published their findings in Food Research International and reported subjects did not use any less. Their conclusion was sea salt was not a viable option for reducing sodium in the diet.

What this means for anyone looking for a way to enjoy good health and salt is this: Use less salt no matter how much you pay for it!

Check Jars for Spices to See if You Store Spices Too Long

How Long Do You Store Spices in Your Spice Cabinet?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013 but you can view the original blog here.

 

CHECK JARS FOR SPICES TO SEE IF YOU STORE SPICES TOO LONG

It’s time for your first annual pantry purge of the New Year! Opening up a new calendar is a perfect time to open up your spice cabinet and do a little housecleaning since how long you store spices and herbs plays a big part in determining how effective they will be in seasoning your food.

The initial quality of the herbs and spices you buy is the biggest determinant of their shelf life. The type of jars used for spices being stored in your kitchen is also important. Dried spices and herbs won’t spoil if properly stored and used, but they can lose their potency. No matter how much, or how little, you pay for your seasonings, if they have no flavor they are not a bargain.

Don’t Store Spices Too Long!

The first step is to take out all of the spices and herbs you have tucked away in cabinets, drawers and racks and line them up on the counter. Next you can check the label or bottom of the container for the “best by” date. This date doesn’t mean they will be bad if it has passed, but it’s a good indication of how long the manufacturer stands behind their effectiveness.

Storage conditions and duration can affect not only how robust the flavor of your herbs and spices will be, but also whether they become caked or infested with insects or mold. Dried herbs lose their flavor faster than spices, and ground spices lose theirs faster than whole. If flavor has faded, using a bit more may allow you to get the desired result.

Give Jars for Spices and Herbs the Look and Sniff Test

Look at the Color Dried herbs and red spices, such as chili powder, paprika and red pepper, may turn brown when held at room temperature or exposed to air. They are still fine to use, but will not look very pretty as a garnish. To retain the bright color of the red ones so you’ll always have vibrant paprika for your deviled eggs, you can store them in the refrigerator.

Sniff the Aroma For ground spices, the best way to check freshness is by shaking the closed container, then opening the lid and sniffing. If it doesn’t emit a strong, characteristic aroma, it may be safe to use, but ineffective in flavoring your dish.

You can check the strength of whole spices by scraping them on a grate or crushing them with the side of a knife before smelling.

The best way to test dried herbs is to take a few leaves and rub them between your fingers or into the palm of your hand to see if they emit their fragrance.

Keeping Dried Spices and Herbs Fresh Longer

How to Use Don’t open and shake the container over food that has steam rising. The steam will cause caking and can lead to mold. Shake the spice or herb into your hand or measuring spoon first.

If you are going to insert a measuring utensil into the container, be sure it is clean and completely dry first to avoid cross-contamination. Always replace the lid immediately after using.

How to Store Keep dried herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Do not store on a window sill, above the stove, near the sink or next to the dishwasher to avoid heat and humidity. Decorative spice racks with open shaker holes on top may look cute, but they are not practical storage containers. Use them as a decoration only.

When purchasing spices in large quantities, transferring them to smaller containers – possibly cleaned, empty containers from spices bought in a smaller size – can make them easier to use and store. Keep the remains of the larger containers on a cool, dry, dark shelf.

Do not store dried herbs and spices in the freezer. Condensation will occur when they are thawing, which can result in caking and mold.

Shelf Life Spices that are used in small quantities, or infrequently, should be purchased in smaller sizes so they won’t end up on your shelf for too many years. If you write the date of purchase on the bottom of each new container you buy, you can use this guide for storage times:

  • Ground spices: 2-3 years
  • Whole spices: 3-4 years
  • Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
  • Dried Herbs: 1-3 years
  • Extracts: 4 years, except pure vanilla which lasts indefinitely

Once you have your spices ready for the year, you can look for ways to spice up your love life here!

One of the best values in the frozen food section of your grocery store is the vegetables.

It’s Frozen Food Month: Got Vegetables?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

ONE OF THE BEST VALUES IN THE FROZEN FOOD SECTION OF YOUR GROCERY STORE IS THE VEGETABLES.

What’s the one frozen food I always have on hand? Frozen vegetables! They are my go-to staple that allow me to prepare nutritious and varied meals no matter how sparse the rest of my pantry. Right now I have cubed butternut squash, petite peas, broccoli florets, edamame in the pod, and baby lima beans.

I was first introduced to frozen vegetables as a child when my parents bought a chest freezer. Every three months a delivery of frozen food arrived on our back porch. The carefully labeled brown corrugated boxes packed in dry ice were filled with every cut of beef imaginable, cylinders of frozen orange juice concentrate, and tidy square boxes of frozen vegetables.

My sisters and I had the privilege of taking turns to pick out what vegetable our family would have for dinner each night. Thus began my exposure to an international assortment of frozen vegetables that included everything from French cut green beans Brussels sprouts!

What’s new in the frozen food aisle?

If you think Americans don’t like frozen vegetables, think again. The freezer cases in grocery stores now devote as much space to vegetables as they do ice cream!

Frozen vegetables are now available in single-serving containers and family-sized bags as well as those same tidy 10 ounce boxes. As if it weren’t convenient enough not having to clean, peel, or chop frozen vegetables, you can now also steam them right in the bag or box in your microwave oven.

The assortment of individual vegetables has expanded beyond the classic green beans, carrots, peas, and corn, and so have the medleys. They come with embellishments, too, to win over the fussiest eaters. You can find frozen vegetables with butter, cheese, or teriyaki sauce, and creamed. Some are combined with rice, potatoes, or pasta while others just need the addition of chicken, beef or shrimp to make a complete meal.

Why pick a frozen food over fresh?

When it comes to vegetables, buying them frozen insures you are getting the best quality at the best price all year round. The varieties grown are selected for their flavor, not their durability, and can be harvested at their nutritional peak since they don’t have to withstand the long shipping and storage times necessary for fresh vegetables. And remember, the longer a fresh vegetable spends in your refrigerator, the less nutritious it is by the time you eat it.

What frozen vegetables do you have in your freezer?