On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Avoiding All the Sodium in Canned Beans

DEAR DR. BLONZ: After doing a genetic test, I learned that my high blood pressure is due, at least in part, to an inherited tendency. I watch my sodium intake, enjoy cooking and don’t eat too many processed foods, which helps a lot. But like most people, I’m busy and can’t cook everything from scratch -- especially beans, which I eat often. When there is time, I prepare them from dried, but I always have cans of beans on hand. My concern is that the canned beans’ sodium levels tend to be on the high side. Any advice? --P.A., Concord, California

DEAR P.A.: There are low-sodium and no-salt-added varieties of canned beans and vegetables available. If the standard product is all you have, giving the contents a couple of rinses with lukewarm water can significantly cut the sodium (one reported a 25% reduction). Check this by tasting a small amount of the water upon opening the can, then repeat the taste test after rinsing the beans a couple of times.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is the difference between sea salt, kosher salt and good old sodium chloride? I always thought that NaCl was salt, period. -- P.E., San Diego

DEAR P.E.: Sodium chloride is, indeed, the familiar white granular seasoning we call “salt.” The version called “sea salt” comes from evaporated seawater, and its mineral content is not limited to the sodium and chloride that make up traditional salt. These additional minerals can give sea salt subtle flavor characteristics.

At a food meeting, I once participated in a blind tasting of various salts, and noticed the differences in flavors each type produced. But I remain unsure whether the use of a particular sea salt, versus standard salt, translates into a discernable impact on the taste of the foods we prepare (assuming the same amount of sodium chloride is used).

Regarding other salts: Depending on the brand, table salts can contain small amounts of additives to prevent caking and encourage a smooth flow. A common additive is silicon dioxide, which is the primary ingredient of sand. It is innocuous, essentially nonabsorbed, and has GRAS status as an additive (Generally Regarded As Safe). If the table salt is labeled “iodized,” it also includes a source of iodine.

“Kosher salt” is pure sodium chloride, usually without additives, and it often comes in coarse crystals. It is not necessarily a kosher product, but it can be certified as kosher for Passover use. It is no better or worse than any other form of table salt.

I hope this helps clear up the differences. For any readers who want to learn about the significant, yet unappreciated, role salt has played in world history, I encourage a read of “Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky.

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.