Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Low Sodium Supermarket Dining: The Produce Aisle, Part 2

Let's keep exploring the wonders of today's modern supermarket produce section and how it can help in the low sodium diet battle. Most produce sections are filled with all kinds of whole vegetables and ready-to-use fresh vegetables. The choices are up to you. Don't mind a bit of chopping? Then buy whole vegetables to slice & dice yourself. Prefer convenience? Time constraints? Under the weather? Then look for already prepped fresh veggies.

Main Dish Salad Ideas
Sizzling outside? How about a main dish salad? Nothing could be simpler, thanks again to the produce section. Grab a bag or two of your favorite lettuce mix. Take a look at all the prepped vegetables available and pick out your favorites ‒ sliced mushrooms, chopped red peppers, snow peas, grated carrots, cherry or grape tomatoes. Be sure to also pick up some green onions. What’s a salad without some onion? Then head over to the canned food section and grab a can or two of lower sodium tuna. Or maybe some low sodium sliced turkey at the full service deli. If you’re ambitious, you could pick up a couple of fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts to either grill or poach. Maybe even a fillet of salmon. Don’t forget some naturally lower sodium Swiss cheese to grate, chunk, or julienne. Or some fresh mozzarella. For some extra crunch, how about throwing in a handful of slivered or sliced toasted almonds or some toasted pine nuts. Some salads lend themselves to the addition of fruit – grapes, dried cranberries, pear slices, apple chunks, etc. Put it altogether, and you’ve got a filling yet delicious main dish salad perfect for those hot summer days.

Creamy Store-Bought Salad Dressings
You could even use a creamy salad dressing from the produce refrigerated section. There really are ways to lower the overall sodium content. The serving size for most bottled dressings is two tablespoons, but that’s probably not going to be enough for a main dish salad. If the refrigerated salad dressing is really thick, simply blend it with some plain old water. I usually use equal parts dressing & water. That will extend the dressing so you can use more but not increase the sodium content. Also, the thinner dressing will cover the greens better. But you could also use 2 parts dressing to 1 part water and 1 part sour cream. For a thinner creamy salad dressing, blend it with equal parts of sour cream or Greek style yogurt. This will lower the salt content somewhat, yet keep the consistency about the same. You can modify the purchased dressing each time you serve a salad by blending everything in a small bowl. An added plus, is that you’ll save money by stretching your salad dressing dollars. And finally, another trick is to pre-dress the salad greens with vinegar and oil. Then add just the serving size of prepared creamy dressing. The pre-dressing will flavor the greens and also add moisture so that the creamy dressing will cover the salad more easily.

Spaghetti Ideas
In the mood for some spaghetti? Simple! Head off to the grocery store and pick out the jarred pasta sauce with the lowest sodium content. Then pick up a package of your favorite pasta shape. From there, hit the canned vegetable section to get a can of no-salt-added tomato sauce. Mosey on over to the butcher shop and pick up some ground beef, pork or turkey. And finally, breeze through the produce aisles. Get some sliced mushrooms, green onions, chopped bell peppers, fresh basil, and your favorite form of convenient garlic. Once home, get the meat sautéing and add all the vegetables. When the meat is browned and the vegetables are tender, throw in the jarred sauce and salt-free tomato sauce. Let this all simmer together for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the amount of pasta needed in unsalted water and drain. Return the pasta to the pot, add a bit of the sauce, some chopped up fresh basil, and let it cook over low heat for a few minutes so the pasta can absorb some of the sauce’s flavor. Serve the pasta with a few additional spoonfuls of sauce, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, maybe another sprinkling of chopped basil, and just a dusting of Parmesan cheese or Pasta Sprinkle. The resulting dish will be tasty, convenient, yet a whole lot lower in sodium content than using spaghetti sauce straight from the jar.

Stir Fry Ideas
How about a stir fry? Nothing could be easier. Pick up some salt-free boneless & skinless chicken breasts at the butcher’s section. Or maybe some boneless pork chops. Slice them thinly when you get home. If you don’t want to fuss with all the slicing, just get some ground pork, chicken, or turkey. At the produce section, get every kind of prepared vegetable that appeals to you ‒ coleslaw cabbage mix, chopped peppers, shredded carrots, sugar peas, green onions, bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms, broccoli and/or cauliflower florets ‒ whatever strikes your fancy. Or just pick up a couple of bags of already prepared stir-fry fresh vegetable mix. Be sure to pick up your favorite convenient garlic & ginger and some cilantro. At home, marinate the meat briefly with a couple teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce, a dribble of toasted sesame oil, some garlic, and a dash of five spice powder. Brown the meat in some oil and begin adding vegetables, starting with the ones that would take longest to cook. Serve the mixture over rice and garnish with chopped cilantro and perhaps a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds.

Rice/Stuffing Mix Ideas
Need a one-pot wonder? Pick up one of the Rice-A-Roni low sodium mixes. At 730 mg. sodium per serving, they’re not really low sodium. Better than the regular stuff, but nothing to brag about. However, there’s a way to work with them. While grocery shopping, be sure to pick up some regular old fashioned plain white rice. Grab some ground beef, pork, or turkey too. And finally decide on the vegetables you’d like. They’ll need to be able to stand up to about 20 minutes of cooking. See what's available in the fresh produce section. Chopped celery & carrot sticks would work, as would sliced mushrooms and chopped green onions. When you get home, sauté the meat in a bit of oil. Add the vegetables while the meat is cooking, Once the meat is slightly browned, begin preparing the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions. But… add about ¼ cup plain white rice to the packaged rice mixture. Increase the liquid by about ½ cup to accommodate the additional rice quantity. Combine the meat/vegetables with the cooked rice. If you want, throw in a handful of frozen peas at the end to boost the vegetable content even more. Serve with a sprinkling of sliced almonds or chopped chives. The end result will be a whole lot better sodium-wise than if you simply followed the Rice-a-Roni package directions.

For a Spanish rice flavored dish, follow the same technique. Just use a can of no-salt-added tomato sauce for part of the Rice-A-Roni liquid. Add some chopped onions and peppers and a hefty handful of frozen corn or no-salt-added canned corn to the rice mixture. Season with some salt-free chili blend and a bit of cumin powder. Toss in a well rinsed & drained can of low sodium/no-salt-added black beans before serving and garnish with chopped cilantro.

You can use this basic technique with any of the packaged rice mixes including Zatarain’s. Just start with the lowest sodium mix you can find, always add at least ¼ - ⅓ cup plain white rice, and throw in all kinds of extra vegetables.

You can do something similar with Stove Top Stuffing Mix. There’s a lower sodium version that’s only 250 mg. per ½ cup serving. If you sauté some chopped celery, green onions, and sliced mushrooms in a bit of oil before starting the package directions, you’ll lower the sodium content even more. You can even throw in a handful of frozen corn for more nutrition, fiber, and less sodium.

You can even modify Hamburger Helper. Read about my adventures using this product here. First choose a flavor that’s not over the top in sodium content. Then follow the basic package instructions but be sure to remove at least ⅓ - ½ of the flavor packet. Then just toss in an abundance of freshly sautéed vegetables right before serving. Pick the veggies that seem to go best with the flavor you’re working with. Lower sodium and easy!

In the mood for snacking? How about some easy lower sodium salsa or guacamole? Just pick up some fresh or jarred salsa. Look for a brand with a relatively low sodium content. Then simply add a tub of pico de gallo from the produce section. For guacamole, smash up an avocado with some lemon or lime juice (bottled or fresh). Then add some pico de gallo and a couple of spoonfuls of salsa. Combine well, chill a bit, and serve with raw vegetables and unsalted corn chips.

Canned Baked Beans
Craving baked beans? B & M Original, Maple, & Vegetarian baked beans are 340 - 380 mg. sodium or less per ½ cup serving. If you add some sautéed onions, bell peppers, and garlic from the produce section, you can lower that number a bit. Skip cooking the beans with sausages or hot dogs. Instead, brown some ground pork or even salt-free pork chops and then simmer with the beans and the additional vegetables. Add more liquid as needed and throw in half a can or more of well rinsed and drained low sodium/no-salt-added beans.

Want chili? Unfortunately most canned chilis run close to 1000 mg. sodium per cup serving. That’s really high and difficult to modify. You’d have to read labels carefully and search for the lowest in sodium. Then you’d need to add at least one full can or more of well rinsed and drained low sodium/no-salt-added beans. While you’re in the canned vegetable department, you probably should get a can of no-salt-added corn. If you can’t find that, then be sure to grab some frozen corn to add to the chili. Finally head over to the produce section to pick up some green onions, chopped bell peppers, cilantro, and pico de gallo. Sauté the fresh vegetables in a bit of oil until softened and combine with the canned chili, the rinsed beans, and the corn. Let it all simmer a few minutes and serve with a couple additional spoonfuls of pico de gallo and a sprinkling of cilantro and/or chopped green onions. Leave off any cheese because even with the modifications, the chili probably doesn’t need any more salty additions.

Or just make a fast partially from-scratch version. Pick up some ground beef, pork, or turkey at the store. Head over to the spice section to get a sodium free chili blend and some ground cumin. Then grab a couple of cans of low sodium beans, a can of no-salt-added tomato sauce, and either a can of low sodium canned corn or a bag of frozen corn. Finally head over to the produce section to pick up some green onions, chopped bell peppers, cilantro, and pico de gallo. Sauté the fresh vegetables along with the ground meat.Add one tablespoon of chili powder and a ½ teaspoon of cumin while the meat and vegetables are sautéing. Then add the rinsed beans and corn, the can of tomato sauce, and enough water to cover. You could also include a packet or two of sodium-free beef broth granules. Let it all simmer a few minutes. Taste to see if more chili powder or cumin is needed. Serve with a couple additional spoonfuls of pico de gallo and a sprinkling of cilantro and/or chopped green onions. A dollop of sour cream might be nice too. Since this chili will be much lower than modified canned chili, you could even sprinkle on a bit of cheese.

It’s easy to see that the produce section of your local grocery store can be a great help to anyone following a low sodium diet. The abundance of pre-prepped vegetables makes using convenience foods almost acceptable. By adding all kinds of vegetables, even packaged & processed foods can fit into a low sodium diet. This is especially good news for people with busy schedules, people with limited physical abilities, people who live alone, and those with limited cooking skills.


Karen said...

I love your site. I have been following for a couple of months since beginning a low salt diet for myself. I too am always checking and love coming across new things that are low or no salt. We have been making our own hummus from fresh red peppers we quickly roast ourselves, no salt added garbanzo beans, olive oil, lemon and Dick Logue's tahini. Paired with Costco very low sodium rice crackers we have a great snack. I want to ask your opinion of the products which use potassium chloride as a salt substitute. Does your husband eat these? and do you cook with them? I have been avoiding them because I would like to adjust to the tastes of a healthy low salt diet. Thanks for the great site.

shambo said...

Thank you for your kind words. I, too, love hummus and enjoy making it myself. It's a great snack with raw vegetables and low sodium crackers or pretzels. It has such good flavor with the olive oil & lemon and other spices, that you really don't miss the salt. I really like your addition of the roasted red peppers.

Regarding products with potassium chloride, I don't use them at all. For one thing, I'm sensitive to the taste and don't find it pleasant. Also my husband's doctors warned him about them. He takes diuretic drugs because of his heart failure, so his potassium level must be monitored. He doesn't need to boost his potassium levels by using the substitute. And finally, like you, we both think it's better to just get adjusted to less salty foods. If something needs a kick, then a squirt of lemon/lime juice or a dribble of vinegar will usually suffice. And a dash of hot sauce doesn't hurt either.

Kim said...

I was recently put on a very strict low sodium diet. I used to love food, so much that I constantly watch the Food Network, and I will pretty much eat (or try) anything and everything! Going out to dinner and cooking are 2 of my favorite hobbies!!

I just wanted to say that I LOVE your site. I'm constantly thinking of the food I once used to love and indulge in. So, Thank you for your informative and helpful site!! I also wanted to share with you some of my recent discoveries, some of which you may already know of.

I live in Northern Virginia, right outside of Washington DC. There is a local company that makes delicious potato chips. They are extra crunchy and crisp (like kettle cooked). The company is called Route 11 (www.rt11.com) Now everytime I go to a Wegmans or Whole Foods I load up because chips are one of my favorite snacks!! You can order online and they will ship them to you in snack bag size, regular bags, or even larger tins!! Also, their nutrition facts for other varieties are listed, only downside, some are seasonal and/or can't be found in my local stores)
Each serving is 1oz. (about 18 chips)
-lightly salted = 45mg
-sour cream and chive = 85 mg
-SALT & Vinegar (believe it or not) = 90mg

not too bad since I've seen some of the bigger manufactures make "lightly salted" chips that have sodium contents over 100mg.

I'm not a fan of soft corn tortillas so I was so happy to find Pepito's brand.
1 taco sized tortilla (1oz) =65mg
1 burrito tortilla (56g) = 130mg

Also, the old classic Ritz and Triscuits now have the "Hint of Salt" Varieties at 35mg for 5 Ritz, and 50mg for 6 Triscuits.

I'm unsure if you have a Wegmans or Whole Foods near you but I saw that their store brand uncured and/or reduced sodium bacon was much less than the larger manufacturers. I haven't bought them yet, but if I do, I would be happy to send you their sodium contents.

Keep up the wonderful work!!

shambo said...

Kim, thank you for your encouraging words. This whole low sodium thing is quite an adventure, isn't it? It's a challenge and very satisfying when you come across a product that can really work. I think grocery stores are just beginning to stock more & more lower sodium options.

The potato chips you describe sound really good. I've already used some of the "Hint of Salt" products and find them pretty good. I just wish there was a way to come up with lower sodium Cheetos.

I wish I had a Whole Foods market closer. Unfortunately, it's over an hour away. No Wegman's at all.

Good luck in your quest to cook lower sodium.