About

I grew up in a Greek household and learned to cook the way my mother and grandmother did – a pinch of this, a spoonful of that – no exact recipes. My dad insisted on mainly Greek food, so that’s what I grew up eating and first learning how to cook. My mother was a great cook and had a large collection of cookbooks that I’d read over and over again. My mom and I watched the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child TV shows together,and even after marrying, I’d watch cooking shows on PBS every Saturday morning. All in all, I was a pretty good cook, well versed in the use of various herbs and spices and familiar with a lot of different cooking techniques.

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!

19 comments:

Jonessa said...

I just found your blog today. THANK YOU for having one. My hubby was diagnosed with CHF a few months ago and cooking has been a struggle. We are that young family with jobs and kids and non stop running. Your site has a lot of insight that I am still learning. So thank you again!

shambo said...

Jonessa, thank you for your lovely comment. I definitely understand the challenge of cooking low sodium, especially if you're working and have young children and all their time consuming activities. Good luck in your journey.

Lori said...

I found your blog when my husband was put on a low sodium diet due to sudden kidney failure. It really helped me get started and I am very thankful.
I still check back quite often for baking tips as I still struggle with that!
I keep a blog of products (to help me get organized) it might be helpful to you.. although likely you know it all =)
http://nadana-nosodium.blogspot.ca/
Take care!

shambo said...

Lori, I just looked at your blog. I love what you've done with product reviews. That's always so helpful. The more we share, the better off we all are. Even if we can't find a particular brand, we can look for something similar. It's great that so many grocery stores are stocking low/no sodium products nowadays.

Peggy said...

I just found your blog today - thank you! I am on a low sodium diet to help with symptoms of Ménière's disease and I really appreciate all your information. The change has been a little overwhelming but we are getting used to it. Thanks again.

shambo said...

Peggy, thank you for your kind comments, and good luck on your new low sodium adventure. It's challenging but not impossible.

Anonymous said...

So, so, So happy to have found your blog!! Only a week ago, my hubby, age 50, had a heart attack. Praise the Lord, he is a survivor, and I am still busy thanking Him for His goodness! However, this lower-sodium thing is rather overwhelming and intimidating. I've spent countless hours already purusing the grocery aisles, and came home rather discouraged. I have renewed hope after reading your home page, and feel inspired that we can do this!! So excited to explore the Healthy Heart Market!
God bless you all in your individual journeys!!

shambo said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I wish you well in your low sodium journey. Please feel free to come back here with questions or to announce great products you just discovered. We all need to share our knowledge.

Torri said...

I happened upon your site this evening and am doing a happy dance! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us newbies.
My husband was diagnosed with Meniere's disease about a month ago and like you we decided that this low-sodium diet would be a family life-style change. As my 4 year-old stated when I adamantly refused my husband's offer to just eat his own thing, "Daddy you are a part of our family and we eat together!" We also had read that our taste buds will adapt, we're still waiting :-) I'm so looking forward to trying these new recipes and finding products to keep our meal times from being flat! Thanks again!

shambo said...

Torri, thanks for your kind words. I wish you the best in this new family adventure. Your child's statement of support is beyond inspiring. I know many people with Meniere's have found relief by following a low sodium diet. Good luck!

Julie Dixon said...

I have Meniere's too and have had to learn to cook low sodium. However, unlike some people, I am now retired and have been blessed with the love of cooking and the luxury of being able to cook all the food that we eat.

I've been collecting recipes and low sodium products from all over the internet and adapting them to the low sodium lifestyle.

I would be happy to share any information/recipes/sources I have. I can't believe that I didn't find your wonderful blog until today!

Joy said...

I found your blog through Pinterest searching for low-sodium recipes. Your story is so close to my own it's scary! My husband is right now in the hospital because of heart issues, diminished kidney function, and extreme high blood pressure. Like you, I am determined to do whatever he does to help him with this journey. I am also a teacher with a young son! Your story is an inspiration and I will be bookmarking this site for future reference! Thanks!

Jennifer Thomas said...

Thank you for a really nice blog. I too was diagnosed with CHF and A-Fib, and must eat a very low salt diet. I found you by looking for refrigerator pickles and there you were. Cool.

Anonymous said...

wow I just found you today from daily dish. My husband is in advanced heart failure and is on a iv pump 24 7 he is stable. I have been making everything from scratch a new site is welcome thank you for sharing.

shambo said...

Thank you for your kind words. My best wishes to your husband and you. My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

johnnfrank said...

I've been through a similar journey with heart disease, feel free to reblog any of my recipes you like:

http://nosaltnofatnosugar.com

Tresica Watts said...

Thank you for your blog. I'm trying to reduce my sodium intake to the lowest possible. I'm anxious to try some of your recipes. I've adjusted some of my recipes and they are ok, but sometimes just need something different. I've been on blood pressure medication for almost 48 years and tired of it. I'd like to be able to drop the meds as I drop the salt. I've gotten very close before, fell broke my leg, sprained my ankle - gave up that time I couldn't do very much. But, I'm trying again. Thanks again and God bless.

shambo said...

John, thank you for your comment. And special thanks for sharing your blog. It's certainly full of helpful and inspirational information.

shambo said...

Tresica, thanks for sharing. I know following a low sodium regimen is a real challenge, but it's not impossible. Best of luck.