THE BLOG

Should Salt Shakers Be Removed From the Table?

09/18/2013 06:18 pm ET | Updated Nov 18, 2013

Setting
the table was my first contribution to the family food making effort as a little
girl, and the first task my kids participated in in my own home (I hate calling
it a chore -- makes a job that can be delightful and creative sound so boring.) A basic set table to me has plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper.

But
now many restaurants are omitting the salt shaker. The New York Times brought in chefs, health experts and others to debate this trend.

I
suppose that most restaurants that do away with the salt shaker do so because
they feel the food's already properly seasoned, and that the chef is
responsible for the final taste and deserves full control over the finished
product -- I don't think hypertension is on their minds.

Chef
Kevin Sbraga does
not put salt on the table in his Philadelphia Sbraga. He thinks that the guests should expect to get
the food properly salted and says, "Ultimately, it might be a control thing. I want
to have as much say in our guest experience as possible, even when it comes
down to the salt."

Mary Sue Milliken of the Border Grill restaurants offers the same
reasoning
and doesn't automatically provide salt at the table. On
the other hand, Marcus
Samuelsson
of Red Rooster Harlem thinks it's not for him to force
his salt preferences on his diners.

None of the chefs in this piece took
the salt shaker off the table for health reasons. Indeed, Thomas Farley, New York
City Health commissioner -- who has waged a war on the salt excess in our diet
and is a big proponent of salt reduction
-- is on good terms with the salt shaker:

"The salt shaker is not the culprit. Only about
10 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from salt we add to food while
cooking or eating. Most of the salt we consume is already in food when we buy
it. In fact, foods that don't even taste salty, like bread, are among the top
sources of sodium in our diets."

Salt to taste

Too much salt can have detrimental effects on blood pressure, especially in
vulnerable populations, and there is no doubt that the American diet contains
excess salt -- added for a multitude of reasons some unrelated to taste -- and salt clearly
belongs on the "foods to reduce" list.

Salt,
on the other hand, is an amazing
ingredient. It is an essential nutrient we can't do without: it not only
flavors food, it is also a taste enhancer and taste modifier, and a natural
preservative that keeps foods from spoilage.

But
how much salt is just enough salt for perfect flavor? To that -- I beg to
differ from the salt-controlling chefs -- there is no right answer.

Salt
sensitivity and preference varies from person to person, and depends on the
foods we regularly eat. Evidence shows that we develop a preference to a
certain level of saltiness through repeated exposure. Raise a kid on very
little added salt and his taste buds will sense just a few
flakes
.
Raise him on fast food and food will taste bland unless it's
generously salted. Evidence shows we are born liking some saltiness, but salt
level preference depends on exposure.

So
chef isn't necessarily an authority on the perfect salt level. No one is.

I
rarely add salt at the restaurant table, but when I want another grain of salt I hate having to ask and wait for it, and for me, a table is not set without it. Salt just belongs at the table, and has been part of how we welcome guests for a very long time. Please, do stop this saltless trend. And if I can, one more pet peeve. Please don't clear plates when other diners are still eating. It is rude and interrupts the mood and the conversation.

Do you miss the salt shaker when it isn't there?

Dr. Ayala

For more by Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D., click here.

For more health news, click here.