The Magic Ingredient That Reduces Your Sodium Intake AND Boosts Flavor

Updated: Feb. 25, 2021

The recommended daily intake of sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams, but most Americans consume far more each day. This simple food swap could help you use less salt without sacrificing flavor.

Put down the saltshaker, and pick up a lemon! The key to reducing the salt content in home cooking could be as simple as adding lemon juice or lemon zest to your dish.

The American Heart Association recommends cooking with citrus, vinegar, or other spices to reduce the amount of salt needed for flavoring, but Sunkist Growers and researchers from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island found a solid link after conducting a small taste test study.

Chefs produced control recipes using chicken, fish, beef, pork, vegetables, soups, salads, and grains. They then whipped up versions of each control meal with 30 percent less salt, 50 percent less salt, 75 percent less salt, and no salt, and added varying amounts of lemon juice or lemon zest to each. Taste testers took a seat at the table and got right down to eating, then dished on which they liked most.

Turns out, eaters preferred all reduced sodium plates over the full-salt versions. They chose the 75 percent salt reduction when it came to vegetables, the 50 percent reduction with pork, fish, and salad dressings, and the 30 percent reduction with chicken, beef, grains, and soups. (Here are some surprising foods high in sodium.)

“The results of this research show that flavor and health considerations do not have to be mutually exclusive,” said Global Master Chef Karl Guggenmos, WACS, AAC, of Johnson & Wales in a statement.

Reducing your salt intake can keep your blood pressure, overall heart health, and weight under control. (Find out the signs you’re having too much salt.)

Joan Wickham, director of communications for Sunkist Growers, suggests sticking to traditional lemons when it comes to seafood. “When you’re looking for that tangy, acidic punch, regular lemons will give you that bright acidic hit,” she says. (Did you know adding lemon to your water could have these amazing benefits?)

If you like to experiment, Meyer lemons (a cross between a mandarin and a lemon) are increasingly popular in the culinary world, and she recommends using those for adding a more sweet and subtle lemony flavor to baking or to zest with.

“Meyers are incredibly aromatic and have a brighter floral scent and a gorgeous golden color on the peel. Any recipe that calls for zest is a great opportunity to use Meyers,” she says. Meyer lemons also have a high juice content and sweeter flavor than regular lemons, so you can add them to salad dressings to balance out the vinegar.