On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Alternatives to Salt Abound

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I try hard to limit my daily salt intake, but some foods need a little extra flavor. I tend to use seasonings such as onion powder and garlic powder in place of onion salt and garlic salt, but what exactly is the difference between the powder and the salt? Is there any salt in the “powders,” and am I doing any good at all by making the substitution? Any other suggestions? -- I.D., Walnut Creek, California

DEAR I.D.: As a general rule, if a seasoning has “salt” in the name, expect there to be salt (sodium chloride) in the product. But whatever the name, the way to know for sure is to consult the ingredients statement and check the level of sodium on the Nutrition Facts label.

Individuals concerned about salt/sodium need to shift away from a mindset where a desire to add flavor automatically translates to “more salt.” As you indicate, seasonings such as garlic or onion powders (or granules) can be helpful. They contain no salt, and in addition to their flavors, they will contain the naturally occurring phytochemicals found in these healthful foods.

It is difficult to make generalizations about what types of seasonings work with what foods or methods of preparation. It would be nice if we each had an experienced chef nearby to provide needed advice! Absent this, we can consult a cookbook, magazine or online recipe resource. Every week, the food sections of local newspapers present new ways of preparing foods. It helps to acquaint yourself with the variety of flavors available through herbs and spices, and how they work. There are many resources out there, but one I continue to recommend is “The Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices” by Tony Hill.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is white distilled vinegar made from, and how is it made? Is it healthy or harmful? -- F.T., Hayward, California

DEAR F.T.: Vinegar has been used as a flavor enhancer, preservative and folk remedy since 5000 B.C. Vinegar comes from fermented carbohydrate, and there are many varieties, their particular flavors depending on the type of carbohydrate used. White distilled vinegar comes from the distillation of grains -- mostly corn, but also rye and barley.

The acid in vinegar is acetic acid, and it is usually present in solution at about four parts in 100 (4 percent acidity). White distilled vinegar’s main failing is that it has a strong acidic taste. It can be used in foods, but it is perhaps best suited for pickling.

Vinegar does not provide any needed nutrients. It is not unsafe or harmful if used appropriately. For more on vinegar’s possible health attributes, see tinyurl.com/yaxcedxq.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Quick question: I was wondering about the nutritional content of frozen vegetables. I eat them daily, heated up in a microwave for a minute or two. Are these a good source of vitamins, or am I kidding myself? -- S.J., Dover, New Jersey

DEAR S.J.: Assuming it is stored properly, the nutrition of a frozen food is up there with the fresh version’s.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.