Tag Archives: Diet & Health

Eight Months Down The Low Sodium Line #lowsodium

One of my friends is expecting an addition to her family soon. Since she found out about her pregnancy, our conversations have turned to topics around the changes her body is going through as it creates a new life. On a different scale, my body’s been working on its own transformation since January, as my low sodium diet has become more ingrained. (She says, on an afternoon when she split some excellent hamburgers and fries at work.) A few weeks ago, my doctor agreed that I’d made enough progress that the medication I’d been taking on a daily basis could be retired from my daily schedule.

What does that mean? It means I’m now making another transition; I had gotten lax in my habits because my health had improved, and now I have to get strict again. I’ve got to reboot and re-motivate, and make sure that I stay on track going forward.

How far have I come? Not as far as I’d have liked. I’ve lost about 26 pounds since January, but I’ve also gained five or six of them back. I got very disciplined for a while about what kinds of food I kept in the house, and what I ate for every meal – but as the points on my blood pressure monitor went down, I’ve loosened up a bit, and now they’re creeping back up. All the habits that I thought I had under control have proven harder to maintain than I originally thought they would be.

Sometimes following the same routine – the careful regimen that I established in support of all those healthy habits – becomes difficult or impossible, because the demands of life take over. What I’m trying to do now is search for new, innovative ways to make sticking with my healthier habits fit my lifestyle. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – do you know any tips or tricks for packing a super-low-sodium lunch? Or is there a restaurant in Manhattan that you’ve found is especially friendly to those of us who want our meals prepared without salt? Let me know if you do, ’cause every little bit helps!

It’s not going to be easy, but I’ve definitely learned how to do healthier cooking healthier nachos and adapted my grandparents’ awesome pizza into a Low Sodium Pizza Recipe, so if I can keep exploring those options (and find a way to go back to eating more fish, since I seem to have let that slip recently) things should be okay.

Fingers crossed!

Healthy No Salt Added Nacho Recipe #cooking #sodium

Between what me and my roommate could scrape together, tonight’s menu was nachos crafted from:

Trader Joe’s no-salt tortilla chips – taste like the ones you get in mexican restaurants, but without the salt (dur).
Organic New Zealand cheddar I picked up at TJ’s the other day.
Some Tesco’s mozzarella from my roommate
An assortment of onions and peppers, chopped up
Some lime juice

We laid it out in layers: tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, peppers, onions and lime juice, another layer of chips, some salsa, and some mozzarella cheese on top.

Then we whacked the whole thing in the oven at about 375F, for maybe 20 minutes (until the cheese melted). The nice thing is that because most of what we used was all natural/low salt/etc (the cheese and salsa, not so much, but otherwise yes), the nachos didn’t get greasy.

They were delicious.

Now I’m not going to pretend this is a low-sodium recipe – the cheeses and store-made salsa pretty much kill that idea – but for a cheat-style recipe, it’s REALLY satisfying and nowhere near as much damage as you might do yourself by pigging out on a whole pizza from the pizza place across the street…erm…not that I did that over the weekend, at all. In fact, for a nice spin on the basic healthy take on an old twist that makes my low sodium pizza recipe so popular, tonight’s meal has satisfied my craving for mexcan food…for a while, at least.

For a nacho photo, check out my twitter.

Training Your Willpower?

I was just reading this article from NPR; an experiment was done (details in the article) and it was determined that when people had seven digits to remember, instead of two, they were more likely to choose cake over salad (it sounds kind of weird, but check out the article, which talks about the part of the brain that’s used for willpower).

“This helps explain why, after a long day at the office, we’re more likely to indulge in a pint of ice cream, or eat one too many slices of leftover pizza,” Lehrer writes.

My own diet modification over the last six months or so makes me wonder how much it’s possible to work at training your brain and body with healthy food, so that when it comes time to choose between the “cakes” and “salads” of my own life, my body naturally gravitates toward the salad.
Easier said than done, I guess!

Six Month Sodium/Health Checkin

Had some nice news this morning when I realized that despite being on vacation, I’m only two and a half pounds away from the result I was hoping for by June 18th. This means, of course, that the goal must be revised…so the new goal is 7.5 pounds by the 18th (which is a friend’s wedding date, and I shall be appearing in the wedding). If I can do it, I’ll be that much closer to my ultimate goal. If not…at least I won’t feel like I can slack off on my efforts!

Of course, the key to the changes I’m trying to make in my life – eating healthier, exercising, taking care of myself – are not the kinds of efforts that I can slack off on once my goal is achieved. Healthy living, I have to keep reminding myself, is a lifestyle – not an all-out sprint to a goal that can then be abandoned.

So how have I been doing? Well, I managed to get to the gym an average of 3 times a week since January, I’ve cut my sodium levels down to a mere fraction (and a small one, at that) of what I used to eat, and I’ve incorporated things like organic fruit, eggs and vegetables into my diet whenever possible. The most High-Fructose Corn Syrup I’ve had in ages was the lemonade I drank at a sports bar last week, and the presence of processed foods in my diet has gone down to almost zero.  What have been the results? A shrinking number on the scale, better endurance and energy, and, yes, a blood pressure that’s significantly lower than it was when I started worrying about all this stuff back in January.

I still have a ways to go, but progress is definitely being made…

Low Sodium Pizza Crust Recipe

Aside from the ingredients mentioned in my shopping list, earlier, you’ll also find a couple large mixing bowls and a wooden spoon useful.

I promised to share my grandmother’s pizza recipe with a friend who’s trying to lose weight and lower their blood pressure, so here is the salt-free version of my grandmother’s excellent pizza dough recipe.

First thing to do: Take a large water glass (I’m going to use the measurements I find most convenient, because let’s face it, our grandmothers didn’t have a lot to spare, and they had to find ways to fix it when things went wrong. One of my foremost thoughts when I’m cooking is, “I’m sure I’m not going to fuck this up to a point where I can’t actually eat it.” This can be very liberating.). Pour the contents of one packet of Fleishman’s Yeast (It’s what I use, use whatever brand you want) into the bottom of the cup, and one teaspoon (either the measurement kind or the smaller spoon in your flatware set, it really doesn’t matter) of sugar in on top of that.

Now, turn on the tap and wait until the water runs hot. (Okay, not HOT hot, but like….hotter than warm, you know what I mean?). Fill up the glass of drinking water. Mix it with a spoon, vigorously, and don’t be afraid to mush clots of yeast against the side of the glass. You’re not going to hurt it. Once it’s more or less mixed in, put it aside. Really don’t worry if you can’t mix it all in, the chemical reaction will still be close enough that you’ll wind up with a result you can use in your first attempt without embarrassing yourself.

So put the glass with the water aside. No, like, where you’re not going to knock it over. Watch a music video, reply to your IMs. You have anything between 3-8 minutes before you need to worry about what’s going on in the glass. Why, you ask? Because all you’re doing is making sure the yeast hasn’t gone bad. If it hasn’t, then when you return to your glass of warm/hot water, you’ll find out that it’s got a thin foam (like the foam on a badly-poured pint of guiness) maybe ¾ inch thick, resting on the top. If it’s gone bad then nothing has happened and you should probably give up now (though if you’re like me, you already have the flour and olive oil in another bowl, so you’ve got to make the best of it…)

Hopefully at this point you have a few eighths of an inch in a water glass, mixed with sugar, with some foam on the top.

Take your bag of flour and pour a couple of cups (small coffee cups, 1 cup measures, or the rough volume of – the same space filled by – your hand. Obviously some of our hands are bigger than other hands. That doesn’t matter. It’s a general equation. We’re not cooking prize-winning loaves here, just pizza dough that won’t clog our arteries and bust up our wallets. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and this will be good enough to fool most people into thinking it is.

Now, pull out a bottle of olive oil. Unscrew the top of the bottle and shake out a tablespoon or two (these are roughly the size of soup spoons, but honestly, it doesn’t matter). You’ll notice the olive oil pooling in the flour, the viscuous fluid coated on its outermost layer with the powdery paste.

Tip about half the yeast-sugar-water into the bowl that holds the flour and oil. Normally, you’d dash some salt into the mix around here, but since we’re trying to reduce our sodium intake, we’re going to forego that small pleasure. If you’re using canned spaghetti sauce or regular mozerella cheese, and you have the patience to spread this dough really thin, you won’t taste the difference so much after the first week or so. (If you like doughy pizza, I’m sorry, but this is one of those sacrifices I feel is worth it for what you save in sodium intake).

Mix things. Vigorously.

It’s my understanding that there are mixing machines and attachments that will assist you in mixing the dough at this point. It’s also my understanding that a perfectly serviceable mix can be completed with a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl, which is what my grandmother had on hand on most occasions. It’s tiring. But in some ways this is a good thing; it lets you get in a little repetitive weight gym-type crap while you’re cooking, um, pizza.

Now the thing is, the mixing is the complicated part. It’s the part that you have to kind of practice, which is why I’m recommending you start off by using only half the water/yeast/sugar mix.  You’re going to want to add more flour, unless you’re miraculously gifted when it comes to cooking (in which case, I think you’ll get better value buying an actual cookbook), so having some more liquid to balance that out may wind up being a good thing.

Ultimately, this is not (at this point) a fool-proof recipe, because in the end you need to figure out the best consistency for your dough. It’s better that the dough is wetter rather than being too dry. The dough should feel like a pale white girl’s drying skin when the weather’s just a little on the dry side because of winter (a poetic, if inspecific representation of the texture of the dough, I admit) when you’re done with it.

If you’re OCD-like-me, pat your dough into a nice, round, soft ball. Cover it up with saran wrap, or just a hand towel (if OCD isn’t your thing). Put it to one side for forty minutes (or much longer – I’ve left it on a radiator for upwards of an hour), and when you come back, you get to punch the dough really hard and watch it deflate around your fist. Once you’ve done this, you can leave it alone, or you can let it rise again, or you can spread it super-thin to the edge of your pizza crust – you want the ultimate width to be about a quarter of an inch after rising, which means paper-thin to the point of there being holes in the dough is okay once you spread it. Which you do after spreading olive oil all over the baking sheet you plan to use.

Anyway, I feel kind of bad about just leaving this blog because it’s just a recipe for pizza dough – not a real recipe for a meal. But at the same time I do think that cooking pizza dough is one of the things that enabled me to eat more healthily while living in the UK and USA, since I could control what went into a recipe.

If you do need to turn this into a pizza NOW, here’s what you do:

–          Add sauce (your own from-scratch recipe or not, you’ve already saved hundreds of mg of sodium in making the dough and not including salt over buying something ready-made). I recommend sticking to a minimal amount, because when I eat pizza, I’m looking for more of the blend of flavors than quantity of the bled, so a thin coat should be fine.

–          Scatter some shredded cheese on the top. In later blogs I hope you’ll all remind me to tell you about how to spread fresh mozzarella over a pizza crust, but for now, read the serving size and use that much times the number of people you anticipate eating the pizza)

Add some chopped fresh veg for flavor and let it cook at the highest heat your oven has available for slightly longer than you think it should. Your cheese may wind up a bit brown on top. That’s fine. Take a slice, turn the heat off on the oven, and slide the rest of the pizza back in. Ultimately it will look a bit brown on top, but it’ll be like slow-baked cheese on top of doughy goodness.

Enjoy your pizza, and remind me about what I should elaborate on from the above.

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A shopping list

Ezekiel 4:9 low sodium bread
Romaine lettuce
Swiss cheese
Fresh, unsalted mozzarella
Free range organic eggs

Sugar (white)
Baking powder
Baking soda
Vanilla extract


Fish – wild better and leaner than farmed
Beef – plain ground beef, steak for a treat
Unsalted mixed nuts
Chicken breasts

Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Maple syrup (real)
Lemon and lime juices (fresh squeezed)

Very low sodium tuna
No salt added tomato sauce
No salt added chopped tomatoes
No salt added tomato paste

Pirates booty- white cheddar flavor

Four Myths About a Low-Sodium Diet

Since I’ve started trying to eat a low sodium diet (January 2010), I’ve encountered some of the same complications I’m sure every new dieter encounters around social situations. For me, one of the more exhausting things is fending off the suggestions and recommendations people make when they’re trying to be helpful, but actually have no idea how sodium works. Some of the myths I’d like to dispel:

Vegetarian Food Must Be Good For You!

People keep suggesting vegetarian restaurants to me, as if meat-free means sodium free. Actually, people can add just as much sauce and salt to vegetarian options as they can to meaty ones. For example, there’s an excellent vegetarian Asian fusion restaurant in NYC called Wild Ginger, and suggesting to someone on a low sodium diet that she try to eat their “Sweet And Sour Protein” is just not the way to keep those milligrams low.

Indian Food Is Low In Sodium!

False. Just false. I love me some Indian food (I lived in the UK for four years and developed a taste for curry like you would not believe), but when I look at some of the mixes available on the shelf, they contain hundreds, if not thousands, of milligrams of sodium per serving. Throw in some nice fluffy naan bread (white bread is a huge culprit when it comes to inadvertent sodium intake) and you’re ready to elevate your BP by at least a few points.

Diet Foods Are Good For You!

Actually, when comparing products, I’ve found a number of diet foods that actually contain more sodium than their non-diet alternatives! The only theory I have on this is that the sodium must be added to make up the flavor of the cardboard-tasting no-fat alternatives, but my feeling on this is also that I’d rather eat less of a natural food – I find it far more satisfying – than something that tastes of fake chemicals.

Try Some Cereal!

Sure, some cereals – oatmeal, for example – can be part of a healthy, low-sodium diet. You know what really can’t be? Most of the cereals on the shelf, and most of the cereals people have offered me in the hopes of getting a little snack in. I know it’s cheap, I know it lasts a long time, I know it’s easy to offer people a bowl of cereal with milk (which also has sodium in it), but nine times out of the ten the cereals people offer have loads of sugar and sodium added to them. Even cereals that advertise as being low sodium are suspect, here, since “low sodium” only means that one serving has an acceptable amount of sodium in it. Are you really just eating half a cup of that cereal? And does the milk push it over the “low sodium” limit?

In the end, one of the more exhausting parts of eating a low sodium diet, or trying to, is fending off the well-intentioned suggestions of friends, relatives and co-workers. It’s hard to do this because while people really do mean well, the suggestions above (which are all suggestions I’ve had made to me over the last few months) just aren’t helpful, and particularly in the case of the Indian food, just leave me wanting what I know I can’t have. If you’re reading this now and you do have a friend or relative who’s on a low sodium diet, here are some helpful suggestions you can make when they start getting puckish:

– Fresh fruit is always a great option for snacks.

– A plain salad (no croutons, oil and vinegar dressing, no cheese) with plenty of vegetables chopped over the top

– Unsalted raw nuts

They don’t sound as immediately gratifying as a toasted bagel (220mg and up) with cream cheese (90mg per serving for Philly Neufchatel, with a serving being, I think, a couple of tablespoons) or a huge bowl of ice cream (actually not too bad, as long as you watch your serving size, with Hagen Daaz five ice cream coming in at around 60mg of sodium per serving?), but there’s no doubt they’ll leave your sodium levels and your stomach satisfied.