Cooking at home:  reducing salt

courtesy of Maureen Tilley, RD

Our blog this week is provided courtesy of Mareen Tilley.  Maureen Tilley is a Registered Dietitian born and raised in Dartmouth and a graduate  from Mount Saint Vincent University. She is the author of 2 cookbooks Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt! She currently works for Capital Health in Bariatric Surgery, Hearts in Motion & Dalhousie Family Medical.  She believes spending a little time in the kitchen leads to good health and great food. 


According to the Canadian Medical Association, the average sodium intake of Canadians is 3,400 mg a day. In fact, 97 per cent of children and teens, 83 per cent of Canadian women and 85 per cent of Canadian men eat enough sodium to put them at risk for health complications and disease. So the emphasis now is simply on getting people to eat much less salt, and for good reason. Most people do not recognize the toll sodium takes on our health. Researchers have calculated that 30 to 40 deaths a day could be prevented if Canadians followed the daily sodium recommendation!


New Canadian government standards state that, ideally, every adult should aim for 2000 mg a day and individuals who exceed 2,300 mg are at risk for health complications. But note that the recommendations vary according to age.


How do you know if foods are too high in salt? First know that your taste buds are not your best indicator. The taste of salt in high-sodium can be masked by other flavours, such as sugar. A commercial muffin, for example, contains over half the sodium recommended for an entire day. Check the nutrition fact information.


When you read a label, check the serving size first. Is it a realistic serving? Next, look at the %Daily Value (%DV) and choose the food with the lowest value per serving size. Ideally, it’s best to aim for values closest to 5%DV and below 10%DV.


Keep in mind; the amounts shown are based on an arbitrary portion size. For instance for prepared mustard it is often 1 tsp. You will find you and your family normally eat several times the label portion size. If 1 tsp of mustard has 150 mg of sodium, and you use 4 tsp worth on your hot dog, you’ve just had 600 mg of sodium — and that’s not counting the hot dog itself, let alone the bun.


Many people who are used to a lot of salt do find that food without salt is tasteless. The biggest reason people insist on sticking with salt — when they’re used to it — is that they find that food without salt just isn’t as tasty. But take my word for it: that happens only when you’re used to too much salt in your food. Salt is an acquired taste! Slowly cut back on processed foods with salt, eating out and adding salt at the table or in your cooking. Ideally, the more you can cook from scratch, the better. A couple of weeks of moderate daily amounts of salt, you’ll find that many of the items you used to find “normal” and “tasty” will seem excessively salty. That’s because they are excessively salty!


The ever-popular burger can be adapted to anyone’s preference. If “the bigger, the better” is your motto, perhaps the Triple Whopper containing 3/4 lb of beef is your fare. We all know that most burgers are not a healthy food choice.


One beef burger with bacon and cheese can pack 1,150 mg of sodium (and 45 g of fat)!

That’s almost your entire recommended amount for the day. Even a prepared frozen burger that you barbeque yourself can contain 500mg of sodium for just the burger alone. 


But “healthy” and “burger” can belong in the same sentence; just make the burgers yourself. Make your burgers from scratch and you can significantly reduce the sodium to as low as 35 mg -155 mg per burger. See the recipe below, as well as, Roasted red pepper and mushroom burgers & Caribbean pineapple turkey burgers from Hold that Hidden Salt! (available at Chapters or online at


For the bun, whole wheat is certainly a healthier choice than white but all commercial buns (and most commercial bread products) contain fairly high levels of sodium. It’s best to use half a bun, a whole wheat pita, an English muffin or half a kaiser roll.


For topping, be generous with the onion, tomato, peppers, lettuce and mushrooms, and be stingy with the store-bought ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, mayo, relish and pickles. Better yet, don’t use store-bought at all: use our homemade ketchup, hummus, tzatziki, natural peanut butter, salsa, chutney or cranberry sauce.

Curry, lentil and sweet potato burgers

Makes: 4 burgers

Time: 15 minutes total


These burgers are delicious! The sweet potato is a great combination with the lentils and curry flavour. If you’re not a fan of curry you can omit it completely or substitute chili powder, garlic or cayenne. I usually eat the patties by themselves but they can go into bread like a burger. I would recommend preparing your own lentils from dried, rather than using canned, but if canned is all you have on hand make sure you rinse them well and make 6 burgers, rather than 4, to cut down on the sodium content.


1 cup (250 mL) cooked, peeled and mashed* sweet potato

1 cup (250 mL) lentils, prepared according to package (omit salt)

1⁄2 cup (125 mL) chopped red onion

2 tbsp (30 mL) sunflower seeds, toasted**

2 tbsp (30 mL) crushed low-sodium crackers

1⁄4 cup (60 mL) rolled oats

1 egg white

1⁄4 tsp (1 mL) cumin

2 tsp (10 mL) curry powder

2 tsp (10 mL) canola oil

In a large bowl, place all ingredients except the oil. Mix until well combined and form 4 patties. Heat a large non-stick skillet or grill over medium heat. Add oil to skillet. Cook patties until browned, about 2 minutes, flip and cook other side until browned. Enjoy hot topped with your favorite veggies.


* To cook sweet potato, stab all over with a fork and microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes or until tender.

** To toast sunflower seeds, sauté in a dry pan over medium-high heat until lightly browned.

Nutrition Facts

Per burger


Calories 212

Fat 8 g

Saturated 1 g

+ Trans

Cholesterol 0 mg

Sodium 32 mg

Carbohydrate 30 g

Fibre 7 g

Sugars 6 g

Protein 8 g



For more information or to purchase Maureen’s books Hold the Salt! or Hold that Hidden Salt! visit: or Chapters.  

"the emphasis now is simply on getting people to eat much less salt."

 "Make your burgers from scratch and you can significantly reduce the sodium"

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© 2018 by The Dietitians Network of Nova Scotia.