|My Mother and Grandmother|
About seven years ago my husband spent over a week in ICU. He was horribly weak and diagnosed with congestive heart failure, an irregular heartbeat, an enlarged heart, and a massive fluid buildup in his lungs. The doctors said his heart was working at only 15% capacity. While in the hospital he was prescribed a regimen of several drugs to stabilize his condition. In addition, the doctors also told him to restrict his daily sodium intake. That’s when we first learned about the connection between heart failure and sodium intake.
After my husband’s diagnosis, I determined to not only cook low sodium meals for him but to also join him – whatever he ate, I would eat. I started this adventure by researching the low sodium lifestyle and found several resources online. I especially appreciated Dick Logue’s Low Sodium Cooking site and Donald Gazzaniga’s MegaHeart site. I also discovered a really good source for low sodium products – Healthy Heart Market, and I even attended some classes at our HMO dealing with congestive heart failure. I gleaned a lot of good basic information, but was a bit frustrated.
A lot of the advice simply emphasized the dangers of too much salt in your diet, why you didn’t need so much salt, and what products to avoid. The few helpful hints offered were pretty limited – Mrs.Dash and lemon juice! What do you do once you get sick of the Mrs. Dash products and get tired of having everything lemon flavored? Also the focus seemed to be on following recipes rather than explaining how to make food taste good. My dilemma was that most of the recipes I read or tried were rather blah. Adding a clove of garlic here or a sprinkle of lemon juice there was not enough to make dull food sparkle. I knew that I couldn’t expect my husband to stick with a low sodium diet if his food tasted boring. I also knew that I wouldn’t want to cook or eat ho-hum food. I wanted some basic techniques for making low sodium food interesting.
As I began low sodium cooking, I realized that I had it rather easy. I was a good cook to start with, and I was retired. I could spend time each day making everything from scratch. But I remembered back to my hectic days as a teacher, wife, and mother of two children. Coming home late in the afternoon, tired and with a load of papers to correct. I needed to fix something for dinner but had little energy or inspiration. So I relied on some convenience foods – cream of whatever soups, rotisserie chicken, fully cooked sausages, etc.
I began to wonder about other people who had been told to follow a low sodium diet. I was sure some of them didn’t have the time to make everything from scratch. Probably some weren’t skilled cooks. Or maybe they didn’t enjoy cooking at all. Perhaps some couldn’t afford to order tons of stuff from online sources. What were they supposed to do? It's pretty easy for a doctor to say you should eat a very low sodium diet, but it’s a very different thing to try to live it – day after day, week after week, for years and years.
I decided to start blogging about my experiences trying to create good tasting low sodium dishes. I wanted to focus on helpful techniques rather than just recipes. I also wanted to discuss how to make readily available grocery store products work in a low sodium diet. But more than anything, I wanted to be honest and realistic about the challenges and pitfalls.
To this day my cooking style hasn’t really changed much. I’ve never been one to follow recipes. Instead, I use them mainly as guides and inspirations. However, I’ve become more experimental. I keep trying to improve the taste of old favorites. I try to assess each dish I make to see where I could do better. I’ve learned which dishes adapt well to a low sodium version and which do not. (And, yes, there are some dishes that do not transition well to low or no salt.) I’ve pretty much mastered low sodium yeast breads, and I’ve become quite the sleuth at the grocery store, searching out lower sodium products. Of course, I’ve continued cooking our favorite Greek dishes and found it rather easy to adapt them to a low sodium lifestyle. Also, my husband and I have become fairly adept at ordering lower sodium dishes in restaurants. So from time to time we are able to join friends and family when dining out.
|In my low-sodium kitchen!|
I don’t care what anyone says, food prepared without salt tastes a bit flat. It doesn’t taste bad, but you sense that something is missing. I think it’s important to recognize that fact and accept it. I’ve had people tell me and I’ve read that if you cook without salt, your taste buds will change after a few months and you won’t miss the salt. I have not found that true. I notice that the salt is missing. But, again, that doesn’t mean the food tastes bad, just different. However, the dishes I prepare must taste pretty good because we’ve kept on this low sodium diet for seven years now. My husband is doing pretty well, all things considered, and he’s very appreciative of all my efforts.
My hope is that this blog will encourage you and also give you helpful information, techniques, and recipes. Every little bit helps make the low sodium journey easier. It’s a challenge but not an impossible one, and we're all in this together. Since my husband and I started this adventure, many new products have appeared in grocery stores and there is a heightened awareness of the high sodium levels in processed foods. Our world is becoming more and more low sodium friendly. And that's good news for all of us!