On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Canning Salt Not the Culprit

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I’m 78, and for years I have been using canning salt for all my salt needs. My daughter now says it’s catching up with me. For the past three years, I’ve been suffering from weakness and a number of other problems. I hurt my back this year, and the discomfort has spread down to my hips. Is there a chance that the canning salt could be responsible? -- T.C., San Jose, California

DEAR T.C.: I encourage you to seek advice for the health issues you are now experiencing, but canning salt is not the villain your daughter believes it to be. It is no more harmful than regular salt. The difference is that canning salt does not contain sodium silico-aluminate, which is the anti-caking substance often added to table salt to keep it free-flowing. In addition, canning salt does not contain iodine.

One might ask why canning salt is on the market. The answer is that salt is often added to the water during the canning process, as it affects water’s boiling temperature and can reduce the time needed to safely can foods. However, the anti-caking agents in regular table salt were found to leave a powdery deposit on the jars. Canning salt arrived on the scene to solve this problem.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: What are your thoughts about ready-packaged lettuce, salads and cabbage slaws? Also, are there any concerns or benefits to eating baked potato peels? I wash and prick holes in the potatoes, then put them in a microwave-safe sandwich bag with a little water and cook them in the microwave. The resulting peel is soft and really good-tasting. -- V.G., West Orange, New Jersey

DEAR V.G.: Ready-packaged lettuces and slaw mixes undergo a thorough washing, are safe and, theoretically, ready to eat right out of the package. I do recommend, however, that all such packaged products be given a cold-water rinse to help crisp the greens before serving. Most national brands date-code their packages, so make sure you’re getting a fresh product. Aside from checking the date, look for browning or other discoloration as signs that the veggies are getting old.

The peel of the potato isn’t a nutritional powerhouse; the vitamins and minerals come primarily from the flesh. The peel does contain fiber and a small amount of iron, and provides a good contrast to the smooth texture of the flesh.

There’s absolutely nothing unsafe about eating potato peels, provided there is no greenish discoloration. I say this because potatoes can produce solanine, a bitter-tasting toxin that affects the nervous system. Solanine is produced when the potato is exposed to sunlight or allowed to sprout. It is most concentrated in the sprout, but it’s also present in potatoes having a greenish tint to the skin.

You can slow the production of solanine by storing your potatoes in a cool, dark place. Carefully cut away all sprouts and green portions before cooking, and be sure to discard any potatoes that taste bitter.

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.