Saturday, May 9, 2009

Low Sodium Supermarket Dining: The Refrigerated Foods Aisle -- Part 2

Just as a reminder, the goal of this series of posts is to find ways to create a truly low sodium diet using regular grocery store products, including convenience & processed foods. Together we’ll “visit” the different aisles of a typical grocery store and discover how many easily available items can be used and modified to fit a low sodium diet. This stop, we’ll finish visiting Refrigerated Foods:

Fully Cooked Sausage

Fully cooked sausages, like Hillshire Farms brand products, are difficult to deal with. Most 2 ounce servings range from a “low” of 450 mg. up to more than 700 mg. The only way to use such a product is to limit yourself to working with the minimum serving size for one, usually 1 link or 2 ounces.

You can create a skillet dinner for 2 by sautéing some sliced or chopped potatoes, onions, and bell pepper strips in a bit of oil and then tossing in some thinly sliced or chopped sausage a few minutes before serving. Obviously, the more potatoes you use, the better for you sodium-wise. To save time & effort, you can even use frozen hash browns likes the Ore-Ida Southern Style or Potatoes O’Brian. They’re both unsalted and ready to use. You could use other vegetables too. Cabbage goes really well with sausages. Be sure to divide the resulting dish into at least 2 equal servings and try to have everything else you serve with that meal very low sodium. This kind of sauté will give you the sausage taste but with a lot less sodium. If you use only 1 sausage for the two servings, that's even better.

You could do the same thing by tossing the sausage with different kinds of pasta or rice. Add the sliced or chopped sausage as toppings for low sodium soups right before serving. That way you can control the amount of sausage for each serving. Do the same with cooked bean dishes. You can also sprinkle sliced or chopped sausage on pizza or a main dish salad. By slicing the sausage thinly, you stretch the flavor. Just make sure that everything else in the meal is made with low sodium ingredients. Freeze unused sausage in serving size portions for use another time. Again, if you can use just one sausage for two servings, you'll lower the sodium content considerably.

Be sure to check out specialty sausages like Applegate Farms and Al Fresco. Their sausages are usually in links, and some, especially the sweeter versions like chicken & apple, can be between 400-500 mg. per link. Also the specialty brands have some really interesting flavor combinations. Stretching one link to create 2 servings will give you the sausage flavor without the salt overload.

The key to using fully cooked sausages is to use them only as a flavoring agent. If you’re on a low sodium diet, the days of having a couple of huge chunks of sausage at one meal are over. But you can still enjoy the sausage taste from time to time.

Hot Dogs

Speaking of fully cooked sausages… Grocery store hot dogs are just as problematic as other fully cooked sausages. Checking the labels is imperative. You can slice or dice up a single hot dog to flavor beans and soups. As with the other fully cooked sausages, stretching one link to create 2 servings is necessary in order to avoid salt overload.

When it comes to the all-American hot dog sandwich, you will have to limit yourself to just one link and make sure everything else you eat that day is really low in sodium. No jumbo dogs or bun-sized dogs either. The good news is that I’ve been able to find a few readily available brands that have less than 500 mgs. per hot dog: Hebrew National Reduced Fat Beef Franks (490 mg./link);  Oscar Mayer has a couple of offerings: Light (380 mg./link), Beef and 98% Fat Free Meat (470 mg./link); and Ball Park has a few franks under 450 mg./link. If you’re a hot dog aficionado, you might want to conduct a taste test to determine which frankfurter appeals the most to you. Obviously, eating a hot dog sandwich can’t be an every day occurrence, but it can be a special treat every once in a while.

Packaged Deli Meats

What an assortment to choose from… Yet hardly any are low sodium! You will find package after package touting their low fat content and many sporting the American Heart Association seal of approval. As though lowering fat was the only consideration for heart health! And don’t even get me started on the packaging labels. Some serving sizes are per slice while other are per ounce and still others are per gram. What’s a shopper to do?

The bottom line, though, is that most deli meat products are so high in sodium that you’d have to restrict yourself to only one slice or just a couple of those super skinny slices per sandwich. By the time you pile on lettuce, tomato, onions, mustard, & mayo on the bread, the flavor of the luncheon meat will be lost. What’s the point? You might as well just make yourself a veggie sandwich or a Swiss cheese sandwich. Nevertheless, if you really crave a deli type sandwich, read the labels carefully and try to limit yourself to between 200 – 350 mg. sodium for the meat portion of your sandwich. That may mean just one slice of deli meat or it may mean just a portion of the supposed serving size: only 2-3 slices instead of 4-6 slices. (NOTE: Since this was originally posted, several new deli-meat products have come on the market. Checkout this more recent POST.)

You may be fortunate enough to find low sodium salami. Gallo makes a dry salami product that’s only 260 mg. sodium for five slices.  Columbus also makes a low sodium salami with 290 mg. for a 5 slice serving. And salami is very tasty, so you could make yourself a salami sandwich using only four slices and still get a flavor punch.

Low sodium salami is great for pizza too. And julienned salami adds a lot to an entrée salad: lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, low sodium garbanzo beans, homemade croutons, chopped hard cooked egg, fresh mozzarella chunks, salami strips, and salt free Italian dressing. Served with low sodium crackers or bread. What a great summertime meal!

Fresh Salsa

Salsa can be a wonderful addition to a low sodium diet. It adds so much flavor and texture, especially when it’s the fresh variety. Most grocery stores carry a variety of fresh salsa brands, so the trick is checking the labels and finding the one that is lowest in sodium content. My personal favorite is La Mexicana Mild Salsa with only 75 mg. sodium for a 2 tbsp. serving. A tablespoon or two spooned on top of grilled chicken or fish is wonderful. You can serve salsa with scrambled eggs or use it as an omelet filling. You can use it to top a bowl of chili or Mexican flavored soup. The possibilities are endless. You can make a great guacamole dip by just smashing up some avocados and adding some fresh salsa. Now that’s something low in sodium that you can dip no-salt-added corn chips into. If you want to extend the salsa for some serious dipping, throw in equal parts unsalted pico de gallo from the produce department. Or you could add some freshly chopped tomato or even some chopped low sodium canned tomatoes.

With a little creativity, imagination, and determination, even the refrigerated aisle of your local grocery store offers some opportunities for low sodium dining.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Shambo,

I just wanted to thank you for this terrific blog!!

I couldn't find contact information so I figured I'd leave my praise in the comments.

I've recently been forced to switch to a low-sodium diet due to having Meniere's disease and this blog has been really helpful. Your writing is so readable and you have great information. Honestly, your husband is so lucky.

Thanks and please keep writing and cooking.

DizzyGuy

shambo said...

Dizzy, thank you for your kind comments. I wish you well in your low sodium diet. I also hope you can get some relief and improvement regarding Meniere's.

Part of the reason behind my blog is simply the fact that so many low sodium web sites are just a list of recipes. But what's really needed are strategies that can be used in day to day cooking, approaches that even less experienced cooks can draw on.

Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly. The thing I also appreciate is that you don't compromise on either flavor or quality. I mean mac-and-cheese on a low sodium diet: wow!

I thought it was unthinkable. Also, it sounds to me like you've adopted a low-sodium diet along with your husband. That seems like the ultimate loving gesture. (healthier for you too!)


Dizzy