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The idea of a low sodium diet is to consume less salt. There are many sources of information. Sources may  promote a fad or a personal theory. Buyer beware. These resources are scientific and fact based:

Salt can be avoided or reduced. A product label will identify sodium in almost anything that has been packaged.

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Measure, Conversion, B%

Bread recipes for the home baker usually list ingredients measured by volume: cups, tablespoons etc.  A recipe for a 1 lb. loaf of bread typically requires 2 cups of white bread flour or whole wheat flour. 

A cup may mean the amount that fits in the cup used by the recipe writer and tester. Usually, recipes refer to a standard measuring cup, but standards are different.  A US cup is .87 of an Imperial (U.K., many other English speaking countries) cup.  An Imperial cup is 1.2 US cups.  A metric cup is a quarter liter (250 millilitres) which is .88 Imperial cups or 1.06 US cups.

The amount of flour in a cup also depends on how the cup is scooped or filled.

Measuring by weight is more exact – but converting volume to weight is fuzzy. The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook suggests 1 cup of bread flour or whole wheat flour converts at 5 oz.  Panasonic suggests, in its bread machine recipes, measuring bread flour and whole wheat flour by weight at the conversion rate of 1 cup = 4.9 oz.  There is a range of uncertainty in how the weigh of cup of flour:

  • 4.875 (4 and 7/8) oz. = 138 g.
  • 4.9 oz. = 139 g.
  • 5 oz. = 141 g.

Reinhart (The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and other books) say 4.5 oz.; he measures differently.  4 and 7/8 oz. (4.875) or 4.9 reconciles to recipes in BLBMC and other recipes that use flour as scooped into a measuring cup.  The volume to mass conversion for other flours varies. Millers have conversions for their products – e.g.  King Arthur. There are generic conversion calculators and tables but these have to used with care.

The point is to be consistent in measuring. I weigh white bread flour (Canadian All Purpose) and whole wheat flour at 139 g. per cup in a recipe. Scales in ounces go down to 1/8 oz, but not necessarily to decimal fractions.  Metric kitchen scales go to the nearest gram. That is close enough for measuring a cup of flour.

Books for home bakers may refer to baker percentage (B%), a method of managing the production of bread. For instance Peter Reinhardt devotes pages 40-45 of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice to this topic. It is a tool taught to professional bakers, and addressed in culinary texts such as Daniel T. DiMuzio’s Bread Baking; An Artisan’s Perspective. For the baker-manager, it is a calculation to scale inputs up or down to  create 2, 10, 100 or 1,000 consistent loaves of bread. The assumptions are consistency of ingredients, equipment, energy, working space, and time.  For managing production, every ingredient is put into the formula.  The formula can be used to build dashboard indicator of the use of a bakery.  It is as precise as it needs to be, for how it is used. B% is explained:

Flour has plant proteins and starch. Water and protein make dough sticky and stretchy. Starch feeds yeast – some is fermented. Starch is the carbohydrate in bread – the thing that makes it food. Flour is the ground product of grains, including flour and meal. All flour is counted to determine Total flour weight, even when flours differ in density and protein content. It is conventional to express the relative amounts of flour as a percentage of the total flour weight (e.g. 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat; or 90% bread flour and 10% rye flour). It is conventional to count all dry ingredients – which works better for a bakery manager than for a home baker.

The weight of every other ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the Total flour weight. The fluid percentage is called the hydration rate, a scale of how wet, sticky and messy the dough is. Conventionally, only the main fluid counts for the hydration rate. Water or milk.

Milk is nearly all water. Butter has water. Maple syrup, honey and other syrups have some water. Eggs have water. ingredients that contain water are not necessarily counted directly – it involves conversions and extra math. Wet ingredients that containe water may be noted to see if a dough has a higher real hydration rate than a simple calculation implies.

A cup of water is 236.6 grams (in the metric system one milliliter of water is one gram). (An Imperial cup of water reliably converts to 284 grams. A Canadian cup is 224 grams. A metric cup of water is 250 grams.)  Engineers may deal with variation of the density of water with temperature, Bakers are not as precise.

A cup of fluid cow’s milk is 244-245 grams according to USDA averages. Whole milk should be 3.25% butter fat. Reduced fat milk products: 2%, 1% and non-fat (or skim) milk. In grams, the water/total weights, per cup:

  • Skim 223/245
  • 1% 219/244
  • 2% 218/244
  • Whole 215/244
  • Buttermilk (whole) 215/245

1 + 1/4 cups of skim milk has 1 + 3/16 cups (1 cup + 3 tbsp) of water.

The home baker’s trick is reduce water in a recipe by 1/4 cup for 1 cup of honey, when honey is used to replace sugar). The average for honey in the US and Canada is 17 g water per 100 g of honey. A typical pure maple syrup for sale in the US or Canada is 32 grams of water per 100 grams of syrup. A large egg, in the Canadian egg grading system is about 57 g.  A large egg contributes 40 g. to hydration – nearly 3/16 of a cup of water.

Water can be calculated by referring the USDA Food Composition Databases. For a Canadian product, the Canadian Nutrient File may have the value. Using the databases takes some practice. not all of the water reported in the data is released from the source ingredient and incorporated into dough. It may be necessary, if the dough is just too dry, to use a teaspoon or two more water to get the hydration right for 2 cups of flour in bread machine.

Yeast means, normally, one of the strains of yeast commercially grown and distributed as a leaving agent. Salt is a chemical control on yeast. B% descriptions of a recipe may have 2% salt and 1% yeast. For 2-3 cups of flour,  this means fractions of an ounce of salt and yeast. These ingredients seem to standard commodities – close enough that the brand does not matter for calculating for conversion from a recipe teaspoon to weight:

Table salt 1 tsp = 5.7; but some table salts are fine-grained and more dense

Instant dry yeast 1 tsp = 2.8 g. 

Bread

Bread is high in sodium, as an effect of the baking process.  The master formula for bread is to grind dried grain into a paste or flour, add water and yeast, let the stuff ferment and throw it on a hot surface until it dries out and stops fermenting.

Salt controls yeast which affects fermentation. Fermentation affects flavour but it also affects rise, which affects the size of the loaf and the production line; it also has a chemical effect on the taste buds (Lallamand Baking Update, Volume 2, No. 6). A few bread styles, such as Tuscan bread, are made without salt.  Salt is part of the process for most bread sold by grocery stores and bakeries large and small.

Archeologists have found evidence that the Nafufians, hunter gatherers in Jordan were making bread with wild cereal (grain) 12,500 BCE.   Baking uses the products of many technologies. Flour is the product of grinding and milling cereal.  Flour mixed with water makes dough which is baked.  Dough can be fermented or leavened. Yeast consumes starches in the flour – it ferments, creating gas, which is trapped in gluten in the dough, which makes the bread rise. Bakerpedia explains:

When yeasted dough ferments rises and increases in volume, and flavor is developed.  Yeast converts starch  in flour into sugar, carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. CO2  gas  is trapped by gluten proteins in the flour which causes dough to rise. Fermentation results in a light and airy crumb.

The yeast propogates.  Propogation and fermentation accelerate until the living yeast cells run out of starch, or are killed off by high temperature. If gas production goes on too long, the air cells in the dough rupture. An overproofed loaf is a lump of wet flour.  In oven baking, the dough rises in 2 or 3 stages: bulk fermentation, and intermediate and final proof. Dough is knocked or “punched” down to release gas at the end of the bulk fermentation and again when the loaf is shaped. The dough rises again in the baking pan and springs when yeast warm up the pan goes in the hot oven – before the heat kills the yeast.

Gluten “is a composite of storage proteins … found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, related species and hybrids …  Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.”  When flour and water are mixed (kneading is a continuation of mixing) the water interacts with proteins in the flour to form strands of gluten that make the dough sticky and stretchy.  Gluten relaxes in time which lets the dough flow and rise. As we read at Bakerpedia:

Consisting of mainly gliadin and glutenin, wheat gluten is unique among cereal proteins based on its ability to form a cohesive and viscoelastic mass. This rheological property makes it a dynamic material that is able to grow and keep the gasses within the dough during extended fermentation periods. The viscoelastic nature also provides the oven spring (increase in height due to the expansion of gasses) that we see in the oven.

Wheat flour has the necessary proteins to form gluten.  Added gluten is wheat flour processed to contain this proteins, used as a dough enhancer. (Wheat gluten also is the main ingredient of the vegan food Seitan).    Commercial bakers know, referring again to Bakerpedia:

Excessive use of wheat gluten would result in drier doughs that have a hard time with pan flow, and a higher than normal oven spring.

Mark Kurlansky’s excellent book Salt: a World History (2002) tells of the use of salt to bake bread in Egypt (3,000 BCE),  The production of salt may have started about 8,000 years ago.

Salt is a standard and necessary ingredient in most formulas and recipes. The right ratio of flour to salt and yeast means a loaf that will rise on time, and not overproof or balloon.

Professional bakers and some home bakers express ingredient lists or recipes as formulas expressed in baker’s percentage (B%). Bakers use consistent processes to manufacture a consistent product. A formula with salt needs more yeast to ferment and rise properly.  Reducing salt changes the process. Professional bakers may use 2 pounds of salt and .77 pound of instant dry yeast per 100 pounds of flour.  The B% for salt is 2%; instant yeast is .77%. This works out to .3 ounces = 8.5 grams = 8,500 mg. salt per 3 cups (15 ounces) of flour.  A normal loaf of bread has 3,400 milligrams of sodium per loaf – several hundred milligams per slice or serving.

Salt can be reduced , with a reduction in the amount of yeast. A few books and some internet pages unwisely suggest eliminating salt and but list the same amount of yeast that would be used if there was salt in the recipe!  Every reduction in salt in a bread formula has to be balanced with a reduction of yeast.  The accepted method is reducing yeast by the same percentage as salt. Please Don’t Pass the Salt has recipes for yeasted breads and a note on the general adjustment for yeasted bread recipes.

Artisan bread baking writers suggest that adjusting the salt in formulas leads to unsatifactory results  – e.g. Peter Reinhart, Artisan Bread Every Day (Ten Speed Press, 2009) at p. 15 suggests not reducing by more than 10%.  This approach warns the aspiring baker that salt is important to baking what consumers and food critics regard as good bread. This approach does not help much for someone avoiding sodium.  It is easy to get to 50%. It is possible to go further if final proofing can be extended to let the dough ferment and rise longer. Conversely, working in the kitchen, a baker may detect and arrest an active fermentation by knocking down the dough or getting the loaf in the oven.

Home bakers work with small amounts of salt and yeast. Measurement by weight is desireable, in theory.  Few home bakers have scales precise enough. And what is the conversion?

For table salt: 1 tsp = 5.7 grams (round to 6 grams) or .20 oz.  There is some confusing information in some modern culinary publications.

  • America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking (2012) lists several brands of kosher salt and sea salt and compares them to table salt, suggesting that Morton’s brand is the standard for table salt at 1 tsp = 7.15 g.
  • Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (Ten Speed Press, 2001) says on p. 28 that 1 tsp of table salt = .25 oz which converts to 7 grams. 

Some fine crystal table salt on the market in the US weighs 7 grams per teaspoon.  A recipe or bread formula ought to read as referring to conventional table salt. The size of the salt crystals affects solubility, which can affect the distribution of salt in the dough, and effect of salt on yeast.   Density, as such, doesn’t matter when adding salt by weight.  Home bakers can normally read a recipe in terms of level teaspoons of table salt, and should adjust when using coarser (eg. kosher salt, some sea salt), or finely ground salt measured by volume. 

Most sources say for instant dry yeast: 1 tsp  = 2.8 grams = .10 oz. .   Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (Ten Speed Press, 2001) says on p. 28 that 1 tsp instant dry yeast = .11 oz which converts to 3.1 grams.

Commercial bakers use chemical leaveners for some bread.  Home bakers use baking powder and baking soda for corn bread, soda bread, cakes and other baking.  Baking powder is baking soda mixed with cream of tartar. Kraft Foods Magic Baking Powder does not provide Food Facts on the labels of small jars in Canada.  The published information is that 1 tsp has 300 mg. of sodium.  Substitutions for baking powder involve 1/4 tsp of baking soda plus some acid (e.g. vinegar, cream of tartar) for each tsp baking powder.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.  It has 1,259 mg. of sodium per teaspoon, which explains the food facts for baking powder.

The science of substitution for baking soda and baking powder is to use potassium bicarbonate, or to use natural bubbles, if possible e.g. whipped egg whites. Potassium bicarbonate is the key ingredient of Featheweight, but is not a grocery product.  It is available as a supplement but has a list of side effects and do not use if taking medication warnings.

There is a no sodium baking powder on the market, called Featherweight. Please Don’t Pass the Salt has recipes for quick breads, and suggestions on low sodium “baking mixes”

Cookbooks

Dietary and culinary theories abounded – and still persist, that salt is adds flavour and should be used in cooking nutritious and tasty food. Salt has been added to food as necessary preservative e.g. ham, sausage, olives, cheese, soy and other sauces. It has become a normal practice to put some salt into any dish, or the water to prepare boiled ingredients.

Some culinary books say that consumers can avoid the wrong processed ingredients and avoid processed foods. That’s true, but that advice may be accompanied by advising home cooks to use salt, as suggested in a recipe, in preparing meals.  Also to brine certain foods to make them cook better. The writers, presenters, and publishers of the  Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen family are an example. This sends contradictory messages about processed food, prepared food, home cooking and eating to satisfy taste and psychological needs:

  • It supports home cooking and food preparation with less reliance on processed ingredients
  • It appears to encourage safe and wise use of salt
  • It is a rationale for trying a salted item for one’s own pleasure or as  comfort food, which is also a rationale for departing from a program.

Recipes from some sources include nutrition facts.  General recipe books generally do not provide this kind of information.   General recipes may involve processed ingredients; these are worthless in a low-sodium diet unless a no sodium alternative can be substituted.

Some culinary books recommend measuring salt by weight, because it is more precise and because of the variations in the densities of salt (oarse, kosher, table, sea salt etc).  Table salt is not uniform.  Recipes assume table salt, at 6 grams per teaspoon. Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen published the weight of a specific brand of iodized table salt (Morton Iodized Salt) in The Science of Good Cooking (2012) at p. 113 as over 7 grams. The extra gram of salt is 400 mg. of sodium.

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Salt

Salt (sodium chloride) is a chemical agent used to cook or process food. Saltiness is regarded as one of 5 main tastes. (Scientists have not, as of 2018, identified a distinctive taste receptor for salt.)  Sodium is an essential nutrient, but consuming more sodium than the minimum has no health benefits. Excessive sodium is a health risk. The upper limits for sodium intake, in milligrams, per day:

These numbers are not stated in ranges for body type, or weight.  The limits are stated as a single high number and a second lower number for persons diagnosed with hypertension, or defined by age or other statistical risks. The 2,300 milligram figure is the sodium in about a teaspoon (the unit of volume) of salt. Exceeding the upper limit is risky and harmful.

Food products high in sodium:

  • Bread;
  • Sandwich spreads, condiments and salad dressings;
  • Processed meat, cold cuts, charcuterie;
  • Cheese;
  • crackers,
  • pickles, olives,.
  • Processed (flaked/puffed or shaped and toasted) breakfast cereal;
  • Tomato juice, vegetable juice and tomato-clam (some very high);
  • Processed spaghetti sauces and tomato sauces (very high);
  • Pizza – bread topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever else (most very high);
  • Canned soups (monstrously high);
  • Soy sauce, hoisin sauce and fish sauce (monstrously high);
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Hypertension

I had a stroke in January. I was unconscious for a few days, hospitalized for a couple of weeks and off work for a few months.

I was hypertensive.

I thought I had been cooking healthy i.e. not using more salt than a recipe required etc.

My blood pressure dropped with medication during my recovery. My blood pressure got into a good range when I eliminated salt by switching to no sodium added broths and vegetables in cooking,baking bread in a bread machine on a lower salt formula for the recipes I was using and avoiding fast food, processed meats, cheese and processed (factory cooked) products.

Appliances

Since my move to Victoria, I have tried out and adopted some appliances and discarded others.
I started with a new set of Paderno stainless steel pots – purchased cheaply in 2006 when Canadian Tire dropped the Royale sets. I have added another sauce pan and the steamer and double boiler (not Royale but who cares). Capital Iron carries Paderno in Victoria. I expect the saucepans and the dutch oven to last for a while. The coated frying pans are standing up well although I think the coating in those pans will break down long before the pans wear out.
I bought a larger enameled cast iron dutch oven at Capital Iron which has become one of my favorite pots.
I started with some decent knives – some with the Superstore house brand and some of the midrange Wusthof Tridents.. I bought a couple new knives last year – I went to Mac for a 6 and a half inch Santoku and a 10 inch chef’s knife. The steel is superb – it stays sharp enough for ripe tomatoes with a few strokes of a diamond dressing hone.

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Corn is not a Vegetable

Reuters Science News has a new story today reporting that the genome of maize has been sequenced, which reminds me that corn is a grain. It is a starchy carbohydrate. Like rice and wheat it could be cultivated to produce an abundant harvest that would feed villages and cities. It was a miracle food. It has been developed into a fertile, abundant and cheap, food resource. This has presented a business dilemma and challenge for farmers, food processors, distillers, and business people. How much corn can people be led to purchase and consume?
It turns up as an ingredient in processed goods. Michael Pollan provides an interesting and informative explanation of modern corn, corn farming and industrial food processing in The Omnivore’s Dilemna.
In the grocery store, it is presented identifiably in ground corn flour (grits, meal, polenta), as the main ingredient in corn chips, and as a fresh, frozen or canned product. In its raw forms, it is a nutritious and tasty item. It is a starchy grain, though, not a vegetable. Corn chips are fried or baked flat breads or croutons, made of starch and fat, just like potato chips.
A meal of meat, potatoes or rice, and corn, has protein and two kinds of carbs. I was looking at the labels on the (Green Giant) frozen foods in my freezer. Corn has over 150 calories in a 3/4 cup serving. Peas have about 90 calories for that size serving. Beans have about 35 calories. Mixed vegetables with corn, peas, beans and carrots are marked at about 70 calories.
I like corn. I plan to keep using corn as a occasional treat – corn on the cob is wonderful. I think it is a staple, but I have to think of it as a starch course like bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.

In Defence of Food

In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto has received favourable reviews in the LA Times and the Sunday Times (of London), and is a bestseller at this point in time.
Michael Pollan is an experienced journalist and writer. He reviews a fair amount of history and science in a short book. He tries to talk about food from a common sense perspective. He is cautious about food science, which is often bad science. He is skeptical about anything the food industry, nutritionists and journalists say about food. All too often, claims about food are made to sell new kinds of processed foods, or to sell books, diet plans, supplements and fads.
His advice for eating well, to avoid malnutrition and obesity is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His idea of food is something pretty close to the original plant or animal – fresh, dried, frozen – cooked at home, not processed at a factory. Don’t buy or eat processed and packaged things that claim to produce health benefits or weight loss. If you want to avoid obesity, eat less.
Pollan is an advocate of a natural diet, organic produce and Slow Food. He described the Western diet as a disaster, and cites the studies of people who return to a traditional diet from a Western diet. He says that there are many traditional diets incorporating indigenous resources and cultural traditions – and all of them are healthier than the Western diet, which manages to produce malnutrition and obesity at the same time.

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Light Exercise

Link to an excerpt from Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, a new book by Gary Taubes, published in New York Magazine, The Scientist and the Stairmaster.
Taubes says that the idea that light exercise is a way to lose weight has been oversold. He agrees that light exercise is a good idea, but light exercise doesn’t burn enough calories to let us eat and drink as much as most of us, in North America, tend to. He also supports some of the criticisms of the dominance of carbs in diet.