When I was first told that I was limited to 2000 milligrams of sodium each day, I thought my biggest problem would be eating out at restaurants. I figured I could control how much salt I added to my plate by just taking the salt shaker off the table or away from my kitchen counter. But how could I control a salt shaker held by a restaurant chef?
But really, the issue with restaurant eating has been a bit easier than I thought. Most restaurants have at least have a fish entrée, and if you ask that the fish be grilled and no salt added by the chef, that is usually a safe bet. Another safe bet is simple vegetable side dishes without sauces where you can also ask that no salt be added. I have also had success with salads by just asking for the dressing to be on the side or no dressing at all. You can also ask for oil and vinegar to dress you salad so that you can add flavor to your salad without the sodium.
So the harder thing actually became cooking food on my own with a low sodium content. First, none of my traditional cookbooks had nutritional information. So I had no clue how much salt lurked in each recipe. But glancing at the ingredients in many, with salt well featured, I had to think that I would quickly exceed my salt limitations.
I would like to get a really great cookbook by one of the famous chefs that we see on TV or read about in the Food sections of our newspapers. But I have not found a chef who wants to bask in the wonders of salt free cooking. In fact, a few years ago I went to an event where a renowned chef spoke. When the subject of low salt diets came up, the chef seemed to scorn doctors who recommended the need for salt free diets.
I do not think the chef meant to be so clueless. I suspect that this chef does not have a serious health issue requiring the monitoring of sodium. But I did not find the attitude, or the lack of input on options for individuals who need to shun salt, to be helpful. So to all the famous chefs who mock or even question the validity of salt reduced diets, let's make a deal. I will come to you and not my cardiologist for advice on how to cook coq au vin. In return, you will promise to refrain from discrediting or undermining my heart doctors' medical advice as it pertains to sodium.
My sister came to the rescue on my birthday when she gave me a Healthy Family Meals cookbook published by the American Heart Association. She knew I was having problems finding recipes that would meet my newfound criteria. So she asked herself who would be inclined to specialize in low sodium recipes, and the answer she came up with was the American Heart Association. After all, their website is overflowing with instructions to minimize sodium in a heart patient’s diet. It was logical to assume that they would have recommendations on where to find a low sodium cookbook.
I glanced through the recipes with great relief. Finally, a collection of recipes to try that would not bust my sodium ban. I was especially impressed by the soup recipes where the sodium contents were much lower than the commercial soups you purchase at the market. (For example, Garden Tomato Soup with Pita Sprinkles with 270 mg of sodium per serving, or Broccoli Cheese Soup with 218 mg of sodium per serving). I also have done some additional research on the AHA website since my birthday and found that there is a specific cookbook devoted to low sodium: The American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook, Fourth Edition.
The blurb on the AHA website says that the cookbook has more than 200 mouthwatering, low-sodium recipes, information on shopping and cooking smart, eating well, living a healthy lifestyle, resources for identifying common high-sodium foods and a blank meal tracker to log your daily sodium consumption. So it incorporates both low sodium recipes as well as a low sodium lifestyle.
The following two sample recipes on the AHA website that are from the low sodium cookbook show that you really can make good food without salt: Fettucine Alfredo and Chicken with Ginger and Snow Peas, and they have 155 mg and 157 mg of sodium respectively . Trust me, these are very very reasonable, and represent approximately 7% of one’s sodium allowance for the day. And for those of you who have read my blog post on herbal teas, the ginger is only a potential problem for heart patients if you consume it in a tea or as a dietary supplement. According to the dietitian I consulted, cooking with ginger is not a problem.
Of course, there are other sources out there for low sodium recipes. As an example, a source for good low sodium dishes would be a heart patient who loves food and had to cut sodium intake down to 1500 mg of sodium a day. There is such a patient out there, and his name is Donald A. Gazziniga. I came across his cookbook when I expanded my search for low salt recipes.
Here is the Amazon blurb about his cookbook called The No-Salt Lowest Sodium Cookbook:
One caveat I have is this. I don't know if the language above means to suggest that it is okay to eat less than less than 500 mg. daily. I believe that the at least one medical webdsite devoted to hearts has opined that human beings need at least 500 mg. daily. I would check very carefully with my doctor before I reduced my sodium level this low on a daily basis.
Donald Gazzaniga has also written another cookbook called: Living Well Without Salt: No Salt, Lowest Sodium Cookbook Series. In fact, the blurb on Amazon addresses the concern that I voiced above. It cautions that the cookbook “is for informational purposes only. Readers are advised to consult a physician before making any major change in diet.” The bottom line is that it is always sound advice when you are a heart patient to just check in with your doctors before implementing a change to your routine.
One of my friends recently vacationed in the United Kingdom. She came across a Thrift Store operated by the British Heart Foundation. While she was browsing through the merchandise, she found a cookbook called “Heartfelt.” The author of this cookbook was – are you ready for this? – Pippa Middleton! As you may recall, Ms. Middleton is known to most people as the sister of Kate Middleton the wife of Prince William of the United Kingdom. Pippa Middleton is an ambassador for the British Heart Foundation.
The British Heart Foundation website had the following to say about its collaboration with Pippa Middleton: “Over the past year, we have been collaborating with Pippa Middleton on Heartfelt, a heart-healthy recipe book featuring over 100 recipes for a heart healthy lifestyle. Profits from the book will help the BHF fund its life saving research.”
The website for the British Heart Foundation features 10 recipes from Pippa Middleton’s cookbook. They include things like: Meatballs with Tabbouleh (with 5% salt per serving), Rainbow pepper steak fajitas (with 15% salt per serving), and halibut with roast tomato and herb dressing (with 7% salt per serving). As you can see from the Pippa Middleton cookbook, the recipes can be low in salt while being high in flavor and even high in interest to food fans (also known as gourmets).
I have only covered a small number of low salt cookbooks. I have to believe there are many many more cookbooks out there.
I also want to commend the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for making low sodium a priority. On September 11, I participated in the AARP Meal Pack Challenge. The Meal Pack Challenge was held in several cities throughout the year. The purpose was to pack flavorful, nutritious meals for seniors in need. The meals would then be delivered to and distributed by local food banks. When we arrived we were organized into small-group assembly teams who packed the meals from bins of ingredients.
The website advertising the event said that all meals were specially designed to meet the needs of mature adults. I was proud of AARP for producing a meal that was low sodium for those clients who might be salt challenged. Their version of Jambalaya was 11% of the RDA for salt. This means that it was about 265 milligrams of salt. So even if someone is restricted to just 2000 milligrams of salt a day, this is an acceptable amount. Way to go AARP.
I also note that some chain restaurants have started to put their menu’s nutritional data on their websites, and I applaus those restaurants. This is a wonderful thing because it truly helps you to engage in advance low sodium planning before you join friends and family outside your home environment for a meal.
So between some resourceful cookbooks, some helpful websites, and even AARP should you ever be in need, your capacity to keep salt off of your plate and out of your circulatory system is expanding. Thank God for small favors - and less salty flavors!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.