How spices can help you keep your daily salt intake low

By Siski Green, Monday 31 March 2014

There may only be four basic different flavours that can be tasted by the tongue – sour, salty, sweet and bitter – but apparently you can trick your tastebuds into thinking they’re getting more salt by using a variety of other flavours instead.
Spice jarsThe study found that people taught to cook with herbs and spices were more successful at cutting salt than those given no advice

Researchers from the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at the University of California San Diego, USA, put 55 volunteer study participants on a low-sodium diet for four weeks. More than 60% of them already had high blood pressure, 18% had diabetes and all were overweight.

As salt is the main source of sodium (other fresh food sources of sodium such as meat, seafood or vegetables, for example, contain very little sodium unless it is added during preparation), this meant cutting back on how much salt was added to dishes.

In the next phase of the study, half of those participants were shown how to add spices and herbs to food while keeping their sodium intake at 1,500mg or less a day. The other half simply reduced sodium intake on their own, without any advice or guidance on flavouring.

During the four week low-sodium diet the study participants’ average intake successfully decreased from 3,450 mg/day to 1,656 mg/day.

When the groups were no longer told exactly what to eat, however, as was the case in the second part of the study, sodium intake increased in both groups. The group who had been given advice on how to add flavour with spices and herbs, however, ingested 966 mg per day less, on average, than those who’d been given no advice.

So what did the spice group learn?

The advice they were given focused on how culture can influence spice choices, how to psychologically overcome barriers to making changes in your diet and how to choose and order foods when eating at restaurants, for example.

Rather than telling participants which spices or herbs to use, the participants had cooking demonstrations where they showed each other how they were using spices to reduce their salt intake.

Tips for salt alternatives

Use garlic powder. It adds a powerful flavour punch that’ll help make almost any vegetable, meat or fish product more tasty.

Squeeze some lemon. This citrus fruit’s sour flavour gives your tongue the taste hit it craves, meaning it doesn’t need so much salt.

Get grinding. Swap your pepper powder for fresh ground peppercorns. Your tongue will be delighted with the tickling it gets.

Go fresh. Fresh herbs chopped and sprinkled over the top of your dinner will add intense aroma and flavour to your dish. Try coriander on curries, parsley or chives on your scrambled egg, and basil in your salads and on your chicken.

Subscribe to our free health newsletter for more fascinating health news. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


  • Herbs and spices

    Spice up your life

    Eating more spices could soon be as important as eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

    Read on

  • Salt


    Sodium is found in many things so supplements are not necessary

    Read on

  • Roast chicken with herbs and spices

    Low salt roast chicken

    This low-salt roast chicken recipe boosts flavour with heaps of herbs and spices.

    Read on

  • Chocolate chip cookies

    Biscuits are hidden source of salt, say experts

    When someone says salty foods you might think they mean crisps, or chips, or peanuts. But, according to new research, biscuits are the surprising source of salt hiding in your cupboards.

    Read on

  • Nutritional information

    Check food labels to avoid eating dangerously high levels of salt

    A new campaign to highlight salt in our diets from CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), has found that a typical shopping basket could contain 64g of salt – the equivalent of 128 bags of crisps.

    Read on


Type your comment here

 characters remaining.

Saga Magazine

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

Saga health e-newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest health news by signing up to our fortnightly health e-newsletter.

Healthy recipes

Delicious and nutritious

Whether you just want to improve your diet, or if you need to make changes for a health reason, try these lovely recipes.

Saga Magazine app

You can now read your Saga Magazine on a huge range of mobile devices - from the Kindle Fire to an iPhone or iPad.