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updated: 3/1/2011 1:43 PM

Natural salts worth their, uh, salt

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Salt enhances almost every food it touches. Even chocolate-covered caramels topped with a few gray sea salt grains taste sweeter.

Yes, I know salt has been deemed this year's nutritional bad boy, but most palates would not be happy without some salt.

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A high salt food plan (above 2,300 milligrams sodium, about 1 teaspoon salt, per day) can aggravate existing hypertension (high blood pressure) and has the potential for causing other health issues. Since it's important to be salt-aware, from where does all our dietary sodium come?

According to the Mayo Clinic, we get just 6 percent of our daily sodium at the table. The majority -- 77 percent -- of our sodium comes from processed and prepared foods, like the canned soup or tomatoes you buy at your supermarket and the pizza delivered to your front door.

Why do loads of sodium go along for the ride? Because we love salt's flavor (it's one of our four tastes, after all) and the way it makes other flavors bloom. And no one wants to pay for products that don't taste good.

So cutting back on processed and prepared foods is one easy way to lower your dietary sodium. Another is making smart choices about the salt you use at the table and in the kitchen.

I've moved toward using kosher and natural salts, those that aren't iodized (had potassium iodide added), to keep my sodium within healthy limits and still savor salt's flavor. A teaspoon of kosher salt, for example, because of its fluffier flakes, contains less sodium than an equal amount of the denser, iodized table salt most of us grew up with. More flavor, less volume; it's a win-win.

When it comes to sun-dried sea salts, I've become a fan of Trader Joe's Himalayan pink salt ($1.99 for 6 ounces in a disposable salt mill). The mill worked erratically, but I liked the salt's flavor and found myself using less to season my food. I located a reasonably priced source for Himalayan pink salt at saltworks.us ($19 for 5 pounds) and a good grinder (Oxo, $20). Yes, 5 pounds is a lot, but I've shared some with friends and given some as gifts.

There are many natural salts available (sun-dried sea salts, smoked salt, Hawaiian salts, Andes mountain salt and flavored salts) and it's been great fun to search out different salts. If you come across any you like, please let me know.

Try this recipe: A good friend told me he always made baked potatoes by lightly coating them with olive oil and then coating them with sea salt before baking. The potato came out with crispy skin and loads of flavor, and I used less salt after baking. Here's how it's done.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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