Northeastern University Dining Services Blog

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cutting the Salt!

Friday, January 29, 2016 | 9:59 AM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , No comments

Salt is found in more food products than you may realize. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that American's should consume fewer than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of salt (this is slightly less than 1 teaspoon of salt). Adults age 51 and older, African Americans of any age and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day. These new dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of making meals and snacks from scratch versus choosing processed foods too often.

The most common salts available are table salt, sea salt and kosher salt with the major differences among these being taste, texture, and processing. Kosher and sea salt have a larger course grain providing more air space, which in turn provides less sodium when used in place of table salt. The chefs in our kitchen across campus use kosher salt in their recipes to provide an overall reduced amount of sodium.

Using items like frozen vegetables, or pre-washed and packaged produce (minus any added sauces) can also be useful when trying to prepare healthy meals and snacks. The dining hall offers a number of scratch recipes to allow the opportunity for the chefs to use less salt in the cooking process and include more herbs and spices for flavor in their recipes. In order to really lower your salt intake, choose foods most often in their original form – fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, milk, yogurt and grains such as pasta and rice – that are naturally low in sodium.

Choose processed and ready-to-eat foods less often as these foods contain more sodium – particularly in foods such as pizza; cured meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli or luncheon meats; as well as ready-to eat foods, like canned chili, ravioli and soups.

Avoid using the salt shaker and use salt-free seasonings – such as herbs, spices, garlic, vinegar, black pepper, or lemon juice – to add flavor to your food. This can be done while you eat in the dining hall as the salt shakers have been moved from the tables in the dining halls to a spice station that provides a wide variety of spices to allow you to further season your foods.

Don't forget to read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients list to find packaged and canned foods lower in sodium. Most often choose foods labeled low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added. The chefs preparing foods in the dining hall are also using this strategy when these items are available from the manufacturer (e.g. using reduced sodium beans and soup bases).

Be aware that many condiments, including soy sauce, ketchup, pickles, olives, and salad dressing, are high in sodium so try to use low-sodium soy sauce and ketchup when possible. Foods lower in sodium may taste different at first, but over time it is possible to get use to foods with less sodium!

  1. New U.S. Dietary Guidelines: Limit Sugar and Salt, Boost Fruit and Veggie Intake. Accessed January 14, 2016.
  2. Eat Right: Food, Nutrition and Health Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eat Right with Less Salt, 2014. Accessed January 2016.
  3. What's the difference between sea salt and table salt? Accessed January 15, 2016.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Build Flavors with Seasoning

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 | 9:30 AM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , No comments

with Northeastern campus executive chef Tom Barton

Building flavors and making sure our foods are seasoned properly is a large part of what we as chefs and cooks do and part of that is using salt. Teaching someone how to season is not easy as all of our palates our different; what is enough salt for one might be too much for another. There is much in the news about our salt intake and how we must take steps to reduce it and if you are a label reader then you already know there is sodium in many of the foods that we eat, especially those that are processed or pre-prepared.

We definitely support the notion of using fresh herbs and spices to add flavor rather than increasing the amount of salt to most preparations; however, as a chef I have to say, when used properly, there is no substitute for salt. As a cook coming up through the ranks I learned that salt should be added throughout the cooking process, not all at the beginning or all at the end. Over-seasoning tends to occur when salt is added all at once then when tasting and re-tasting our palates become de-sensitized to salt and the flavor profile we are looking for becomes more difficult to judge. Seasoning throughout the process also encourages maximum flavor from the ingredients by helping to draw out their individual flavors. We also prefer to use salt that has a coarser grain such as kosher salt. The coarser grains make it easier to handle and see how much is being added. Learning how and when to season takes practice and is a learned skill.

Also worthy of mention is the difference between “seasoning” and “flavoring.” “Seasoning” is the addition of basic flavors, such as salt and pepper, to enhance the natural flavor of something while “flavoring” is adding flavors that will change the natural flavor. For example, I would add salt and pepper to enhance the natural flavor of a roasted chicken but if I added a barbecue rub to the chicken I have now changed the natural flavor of the chicken. Also, saltiness might come into a dish from other ingredients such as adding anchovies when making a Caesar dressing, capers to a piccata sauce, or olives into a salad.

Making the decision to use salt or not can be a personal one for sure. With the proper awareness of daily intake, salt can be useful asset to amateur and professional cooks alike.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Monday, January 4, 2016 | 12:16 PM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , , No comments

If you follow food trends, you’ve surely noticed that plant-based foods, recipes and restaurants have been getting a larger share of the spotlight lately. Does this mean that more of us are becoming vegetarians? Should we be?

Why more plants?
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds are key features of some of the healthiest diets in the world. Plant based foods are a common theme in the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet and most dietary guidelines. The balance of health promoting nutrients with moderate calories and less of the stuff we should be limiting make plant based foods an easy fit for most people. Looking beyond personal health, to the health of our planet, plant based foods tend to more sustainable and less taxing on the environment.

What is a flexitarian? Or a pescatarian?
With the expansion of plant foods on our plates has come an expansion of how we refer to the way we eat. Vegetarian still refers to people who don’t eat meat, fish or poultry, but there are many other variations as well. Vegans are vegetarians who don’t eat any animal products at all, so they skip dairy, eggs and honey too. Pescatarians are typically vegetarians who include fish and seafood occasionally. Flexitarian has become a term associated with people who skip meat meals in favor of vegetarian ones periodically.

Bottom Line
If plant foods are so good for us, does this mean we should all become vegan? Not necessarily. We could, however, all benefit from incorporating more plant foods into our daily menus. Try to avoid seeing “meat eater” and “vegetarian” as the only two options. Plant foods can and should be a big part of all of our diets, with or without meat. Vegetarian meals have moved far beyond just a plate of steamed vegetables. Grilled cauliflower steaks, chick pea stews, mushroom Bolognese and other plant based dishes appeal to both vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

1. Rizzo, Nico S. et al. Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Dietary Patterns. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , Volume 113 , Issue 12 , 1610 - 1619

Written by Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.
January 2016