When Jess was diagnosed with Lupus and a host of other aliments she had to go on salt-free and low-sodium diet to save her health. She blogs about her adventures at SodiumGirl.com. Yes she is a health and diet super hero. Whatever dietary restrictions we face, Jess’s tips and attitude can help us enjoy food and life. Take it away, Jess.
Let’s play a word association game for a moment.
I say, “low-sodium diet,” and you think… what?
Chances are, images of honey glazed pork, spicy fish tacos, or luscious white-sauce pizza are not swirling in your head. When you hear “low-sodium diet, it’s two simple letters that come to mind: NO.
(Photo by Sodium Girl)
It’s one of the main reasons people run away from a low-sodium diet, even if it can greatly benefit overall health. And I can’t blame them. Much of the literature focuses on the cannots and should-nots, which would leave anyone uninspired. No soups, no sauces; no convenience foods; no eating out; no soy or teriyaki; no wonder no one wants to give it a try.
And for many people, especially caretakers of those with special diets, the restrictions don’t stop at the food — many wonder what else in life will be limited as a result. What other things will their loved one not be able to do? How many other no’s will the patient face?
But amazingly, amongst all those horizontal head shakes lies a big nod yes. At the other side of all the negatives lies the potential of a hugely positive outcome: better health and better life, whether that means being able to use less medications to curb hypertension; maintaining weight; or preventing further issues from diabetes, Meniere’s disease, kidney disease, or congestive heart failure.
That’s the first yes of many, so grab it. And then, start looking for others. Because you can live a full life on a low-sodium diet. All you have to do is stop denying it and defy it instead. Channel that inner James Dean and rebel against all the no’s and notions people hold against salt-free food and find ways to do, eat, and enjoy, everything and anything you desire. All while cutting out or down on the salt, of course.
Once you start, you’ll find there’s more freedom in a salt-free, low-sodium diet than restrictions. And chances are, you’ll also discover yourself saying yes to more things than you did before. Including salt-free spins on glazed pork, spicy fish tacos, and white sauce pizza.
1. Say Yes to Spices and Foreign Foods
The trick to low-sodium cooking is surprising your taste buds. Use less common spices (such as cinnamon, curry, horseradish, and smoked paprika) or unfamiliar ingredients (like daikon, bok choy, and rhubarb) to trick out those standard recipes. Your tastebuds will be so excited that they won’t have time to miss the salt.
2. Say Yes to Education
The more you know about where sodium lurks and how people use it in cooking, the better you’ll eat, at home and at someone else’s table. Use websites like the USDA National Nutrient Database to check the sodium content ingredients and grocery items. Learn which words (like cured, pickled, brined or smoked) act as cues that the dish contains salt. And know the tricks of the trade — like that fact that many restaurants boil vegetables and grains in salted water before service — so you can plan ahead and ask kitchen staff to reserve fresh ingredients for your meal.
3. Say Yes to New Skills
You can gain a lot of culinary know-how from cookbooks, cooking shows, and cooking classes, even if they use salt. Learn how to employ taste-enhancing techniques — i.e. browning, roasting, grilling and braising — to add deep flavor to the simplest meat and vegetable dishes. Don’t avoid these resources. Use them to create even tastier salt-free meals.
(Photo by Sodium Girl)
4. Say Yes to Low-So Swaps
Low-sodium substitutes exist for almost all salty ingredients. Some of my favorite swaps include soy or Greek yogurt for mayonnaise; molasses for miso paste; and salt-free matzo meal for breadcrumbs. It’s easy to salt-free any recipe and the result tends to be more impressive than the original.
5. Say Yes to Adventures
The world is your proverbial low-sodium oyster (which, if it is from the Pacific or canned only lands you at 90mg of sodium per 3oz). With a bit of planning, some non-perishable goodies for your bags, and a translated dietary card for journeys abroad, you can taste the flavors of any city or country you wish to experience.
6. Say Yes to Grocery Store Hunting
Many products hugely vary in sodium depending on the brand. Compare labels before you buy and pay close attention to serving sizes. And always turn products around to look at the label, even things like pickles and chips, because you never know what you’ll discover that is surprisingly low in sodium!
7. Say Yes to Chefs (and Then Say Thank You)
The more communication, the better. Let the restaurant know about your restrictions before you arrive and provide a copy of your dietary needs that can be passed back to the kitchen. Be clear on what you cannot eat but also what you can eat. Be loyal and build relationships. And be grateful. A simple thank-you goes a long way and ensures great care and effort when you return.