Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Vacation with the Sodium Restriction

Not sure how well it will go, but if we can't find healthy restaurant food in the Pacific Northwest, we might as well give up all hope now. Normally on vacation, we eat fruit and trail mix for breakfast and lunch (not a sodium problem), hike all day, then go out and have a great dinner. I'll let you know how it works out in practice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recipe - Bay Scallops in Creamy Wine Butter Sauce Over Rice

A couple of minor modifications reduced the sodium content of this recipe by about 40%. In our version, the main source of sodium is the scallops themselves. This dish has a wonderful flavor and texture, and while not a quick cooking meal the prep work isn't that laborious. And trust me, it is worth taking the time. Even PDM, who is not crazy about zucchini or cream sauces, liked it. A lot.


For the main course:
8 oz bay scallops (we used frozen ones, thawed just before cooking)
8 oz zucchini (1 large or 2 small), cut into thin half rounds
1/2 vidalia onion, chopped
1 cup white wine (you'll have enough left in the bottle to drink with dinner, so get something good)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper to taste (we like to use a lot)

For two servings of rice:
1/2 cup jasmine rice
1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water mixed with 1/2 t Wyler's no salt instant chicken bouillon
1 T butter


1. For the rice, bring the liquid ingredients and butter to a boil in a small saucepan, add the rice, stir and cover. Simmer over medium low heat about about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Keep covered and set aside off the heat until ready to serve.

2. Bring the wine and broth to a boil in a medium pan. Add scallops, return to boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 3-4 minutes or until the scallops are done. Transfer the scallops to a bowl, cover and set aside.

3. Return the cooking liquid to higher heat and simmer uncovered until it has reduced down to about 1/3 the original volume. This may take up to 20 minutes depending on your heat setting. Stir occasionally.

4. Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the onion and zucchini and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

5. Add the scallops to the skillet along with the reduced wine sauce. Add freshly ground pepper and the cream, and cook for about another minute, stirring often, until the cream is heated through and the sauce begins to thicken.

6. Serve immediately over the rice and enjoy! I added a bit of Mrs. Dash lemon pepper seasoning to mine and didn't miss the salt.

Serves two. (We thought the servings were rather large and that we'd never finish all of it, but it was so delicious we ate every morsel and didn't feel overstuffed.)

365 mg sodium per serving, including the rice

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snacking 101

Getting hungry between meals is common, at least in my experience on the low sodium diet. The problem is that a lot of snacks are too salty for me to eat now. I really miss the days of eating pretzels and popcorn. I am still learning the ropes (and over relying on nuts to tide me over), but as I find good quick snack ideas I will post them here. Aside from the obvious things - fruits, raw veggies and unsalted nuts, I am finding a few other things that fit the bill.

Low sodium snack idea #1 - no sugar added applesauce with powdered cinnamon mixed in. Sodium count = 0mg and it tastes great. Takes no time to prepare. Easy!

Low sodium snack idea #2 (and this also makes a great breakfast) - yogurt with granola and your favorite fruit. Sodium count approximately 130 mg (mostly from the yogurt), assuming 1 cup of yogurt and 1/2 cup granola. Read your labels and choose wisely.

Low sodium snack #3 - Terra sweet potato chips. 10 mg sodium per ounce of chips (about 17). Add some Mrs Dash to taste and they really hit the spot. You could eat the whole bag and not blow your sodium budget.

Low sodium snack #4 - Trader Joe's trail mixes. TJs has a very large variety of trail mixes, and many of them are suitable for low sodium eating. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of my favorites are still OK for me to consume, within reasonable limits. Even the spicy ones!

Low sodium snack #5 - dark chocolate (70% cocoa or greater) is generally sodium free, or so low as to be negligible. And one of my favorite things ever. :-)

Happy snacking!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Accentuating the Positive

Happy to report no further major vertigo attacks since Tuesday - back to my daily pattern of very minor dizziness that doesn't disrupt my life and isn't obvious to anyone other than me. And after about six weeks of the low sodium diet another couple of positive side effects have become fairly obvious. Generally, I feel better. I am sure it is because it is nearly impossible to eat junky bad foods (at least, not in any sort of quantity that could harm you) and I am losing weight without any change in physical activity. I don't have a scale at home, but my clothes definitely fit more loosely and I can just tell by looking in the mirror. (Not that it would kill me to add some muscle tone by working out. Baby steps... Can't change too much at one time. Too hard to adjust!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One step forward, two steps back

My symptoms (other than the partial hearing loss, which seems permanent) had become milder almost immediately after beginning the low sodium diet and this result was very encouraging. But for whatever reason, I have had two days back to back with moderately severe vertigo attacks. Today's hit me at work and I had to spend an hour with my head on the desk trying not to puke. Hope this doesn't become a daily occurrence. Kinda bummed out now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Pizza Experiment

I haven't had pizza since my doctor put me on the low sodium diet. In fact, pizza (along with restaurant soups) was one of the foods he specifically warned me about that tend to have very high sodium content. The only way for me to eat a pizza and stay within the 2000mg daily limit would be to make my own. I really miss pizza so this weekend we decided to try making it at home.

I started by making a batch of pizza dough in the bread machine. We didn't have the nerve to try any of the zero sodium recipes (my experience with cutting the salt in bread recipes has been negative), but since we'd be splitting this batch of dough into multiple pizzas I figured it wouldn't be too bad to keep the salt. It was a pretty basic recipe - just water, oil, sugar, salt, flour and yeast. Maybe I will be braver next time and try one of the salt-less versions now that I have something to compare them to.

Last night's creation was Thai Chicken Pizza - loosely based on this recipe from Trader Joe's website. We used the TJ's peanut satay sauce (a major source of the sodium, so next time we might attempt make our own), but cooked our own chicken without any salt in sesame oil with a little black pepper, added caramelized onions to the toppings, used our own dough, and reduced the amount of mozzarella cheese (and used fresh mozzarella rather than the higher sodium pre-shredded kind).

One generous and very filling serving (about 1/4 of the pizza) clocked in at 999mg, so it wasn't exactly a LOW sodium meal (but definitely didn't put me over the limit due to my very low sodium breakfast and lunch). Comparing this to the sodium content of some other Thai chicken pizza recipes from an internet search, it is definitely a big improvement. And I think we could easily lower the sodium by 30-40% with some minor modifications. The satay sauce was the major contributor, so making our own would be worth the effort. We could substitute a bit of swiss cheese in place of some of the mozzarella. We could also try the no-salt dough recipes, or split the regular dough recipe into three batches and have a thinner crust.

We're using the other half of the pizza dough tonight for a more traditional Italian style pizza. It is also probably going to come in around 1000mg per serving. On this one, we're using spicy Italian sausage from TJs (it isn't "low sodium" but had far less sodium per link than any other sausage we've found). We can probably find ways to reduce the sodium on this one as well, but again - 1000mg at dinner isn't going to get me anywhere near my 2000mg limit today. At least we've got a starting point that isn't too terribly sodium loaded, and now our challenge will be to reduce the sodium without sacrificing the flavor.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Tiny Little Bite of Heaven

We went out tonight to a place where we know the owner, and he personally saw to my no-salt-added meal of salad, filet mignon, and mixed veggies. He even bought us a shot of Woodford Reserve on the house. All of that was great, but I did add one tiny little forbidden item to the night's consumption. PDM ordered a patty melt and the one little bite of it that I had was a very great pleasure. There are some foods that I miss more than others. I don't miss the fries like I thought I would, but that patty melt was pure flavor perfection. Rye bread (toasted), melted cheese, carmelized onions and a burger... I really miss those.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mrs. Dash to the Rescue!

Today was my turn to cook, so I tried an old favorite (but sans salt) - shrimp and corn bisque. Aside from not adding salt and using very low sodium chicken broth, my other problem was the we didn't have enough butter to make the roux so I had to use oil instead (not nearly as good). I was getting worried near the end of cooking because even after I added the hot sauce and black pepper the soup was tasting pretty bland. So I dumped in a bunch of Mrs. Dash table blend. And it worked miracles. The bisque was instantly transformed from blah into wow.

I also made a fresh loaf of homemade rosemary french bread, and this time I did not leave out any salt. (Last time I halved the salt and the bread wasn't nearly as light or good). This time it was much better. I could only have one slice, but it was a slice of heaven. I used the bread machine on the dough cycle, then shaped it and cooked the loaf on a stone in the oven. Super yummy, but not super low sodium. In this situation, portion control is your best tool.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Recipe - Low Sodium Salmon Packets

This is the recipe for last night's awesome salmon dinner. It was our best low salt meal yet.You can use other types of fish in this recipe - we have made it with several varieties including tilapia and cod. This low sodium version was adapted from a Cook's Country recipe that was one of our favorites in our "not caring about sodium content" era. Some quantities in this recipe will be approximate, because that is just the way we roll. Neither of us measures ingredients very carefully unless we are baking, where being exact matters a great deal.

Ingredients (per serving, which is one package):

~6 oz. fish fillet (your choice, but it was delicious with salmon), skin removed
1 red bliss potato, sliced thin (we left them unpeeled)
1/2 stalk celery, sliced at an angle into 2-3mm thick pieces
1/2 carrot, julienned
1 lemon slice
zest of lemon
freshly ground black pepper
2 T white wine
2 T "chicken stock" (we used Wylers no sodium chicken flavor powder with water to make this)
pat of unsalted butter
fresh dill weed
Mrs. Dash lemon pepper seasoning (optional)

Other necessary items:

heavy duty aluminum foil
baking sheet or pan


Preheat the oven to 400F. Microwave the sliced potatoes for about a minute to pre-soften them. Meanwhile, lay out a sheet of the heavy duty aluminum foil - one per packet/serving. You will need a sheet of this large enough to contain the fish and veggies with an equal area to fold over and seal. Place the sliced, pre-cooked potatoes on one half of the foil, top with the fish, then cover with the celery and carrots. Add some of the fresh dill, lemon zest, freshly ground pepper, and a pat of butter. Top all of this with the lemon slice. Bend the edges of the foil up so that each packet will hold liquid without spillage. Finally pour the "chicken stock" and wine over each packet, then fold the foil over and seal the edges tightly. Place packets in a baking pan or sheet and transfer to the middle rack of your oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

One serving of this recipe makes a complete meal that is satisfying, but not overly filling. It is also very easy to clean up after. Once on the table, I sprinkled some Mrs. Dash lemon pepper seasoning on to make it even more savory and delicious. I didn't miss the salt AT ALL. And that makes me very happy!

Sodium count (per serving): < 150 mg

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What About Iodine?

Iodized salt is the primary source of iodine for most adults, so my switch to a low sodium diet that specifically avoids the use of iodized table salt made me wonder if I need to supplement my diet with iodine. The last thing I need is a thyroid problem or a goiter. Fortunately, the adult human does not require large amounts of iodine to maintain health. Eating ocean fish once a week is a great way to get all of the recommended iodine for a healthy adult. I think we can handle that, particularly since tonight's meal of salmon cooked with veggies in foil packets was such as awesome hit and tasted great without any added salt. I did add some freshly ground pepper and lemon pepper flavor Mrs. Dash. PDM doesn't really use a recipe for this, but I will try to come up with an approximate one and post it soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Retraining My Taste Buds

In my internet research into Meniere's Disease and the low salt diet, one of the more encouraging ideas that kept coming up is that your taste for salt can and will change. After a bit more than two weeks, I can confirm that this seems to be happening. A lot of things still taste bland to me and I'm still learning how to combat that with other herbs and spices, but I don't seem so mind the lack of salt on a lot of what we're making. And you can really taste the food itself, which is a plus!

I bought some "No Salt" - which is simply a chemically different "salt" than table salt - potassium chloride (KCl) rather than sodium chloride (NaCl). I've tried to limit my use of this salt substitute for two reasons: it doesn't taste exactly like table salt, and I want to retrain my taste buds to enjoy food without needing a strong salty flavor. I'd rather try some lemon juice or Mrs. Dash before I resort to the fake salt.

We went out to hear live music last night and my strategy was to eat before we left. While we were there, I snuck a french fry from PDM's plate, and even after brushing off much of the visible salt it tasted extremely salty to me. So maybe those taste buds are changing and I won't miss overly salted foods so much after all. At this rate, I probably won't be able to tolerate the really salty stuff in the future. And my tongue will be a reliable salt detector!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Hint of Normalcy

I worked very late on Tuesday, and when I finally got home my husband had dinner in progress on the stove (because he is awesome like that). The remarkable thing about this meal is that it was so much like what we used to eat before Low Sodium. He is very good at making burritos from scratch using a variety of ingredients, but it didn't seem like we'd be able to make a low enough sodium version of any of them - tortillas have a LOT of sodium, as does cheese, canned black beans or refried beans (even the "low sodium" varieties), and even hot sauce isn't sodium free. And of course he would always include salt in the seasoning mix applied to whatever meat we used as well.

PDM's delicious low sodium beef burritos were made possible by: not including any salt in the seasoning for the meat (he used a lot of other spices), making more carmelized peppers and onions than usual to add delicious flavor and aroma without any sodium, starting with dried black beans rather than canned (much more work and time required, but no sodium unless you add it yourself), using some no-sodium "chicken flavor" fake bouillon powder to add flavor to the cooking water for the beans in lieu of salt, finding a semi-lowish-sodium cheese blend and not using very much of it on my burrito, and some very tasty tortillas that had less fat and much less sodium than our usual brand (Tumaro's jalapeno and cilantro gourmet tortillas, with 105 mg sodium each). He made a fresh jalapeno and onion salsa that was very tasty sans salt. I ended up using it to perk up my black beans, which were sort of bland. I also put just a tad of "No Salt" (which is KCl - potassium chloride) on the beans because they really needed it!

All in all, I could barely tell that this meal had FAR less sodium than any of our old burrito concoctions. And since the lowly burrito (done creatively with whatever we happen to have around) has been such a staple of our dinner routine, this success was quite a relief! It also means that we should be able to make quesadillas using some of the same methods, although I will have to make mine small to limit the tortilla and cheese sodium contribution.

And for whatever reason, I've been eating smaller portions than I used to. My theory is that (so far) the food isn't quite as tasty, which makes it easier to stop when I feel full. Since I only ate half my burrito, this helped further reduce the sodium count of this meal, and gave me a low sodium lunch to bring to work the next day.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Help is on the way

Actually, it's here. PDM, my husband and best friend (and damn good chef), ordered some low sodium cookbooks to get us started since we are not having much luck converting our normal recipes. These books should give us some immediate menu choices, plus we might pick up some general ideas about how to reduce the sodium in our standard recipes. They also had some great suggestions about where to get some low sodium cooking staples such as baking powder and such.

500 Low Sodium Recipes
by Dick Logue

The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Cookbook by Donald A. Gazzaniga

Low-Salt Cookbook, 3rd Edition
by the American Heart Association

We tried our first set of those recipes last night and had a pretty decent meal. Our taste buds still haven't adapted to the salt deficit, so we still think everything - no matter how otherwise tasty - tastes like it could use a sprinkle of salt. That aside, our lamb curry with rice (extra spicy), home made naan, and cool raita made a satisfying meal. The lamb recipe came from the AHA cookbook. The naan and raita came from Dick Logue's book, and I already know how to flavor rice without salt - toast some mustard seed, whole coriander, and cumin seed in the hot pan before you add the water and rice. Add a pat of unsalted butter before you cover the pot to simmer the rice and you're in business!

Tonight I made a pineapple cole slaw (cider vinegar based) from the Logue book, will cook some corn on the cob (which is in season and doesn't need a thing to make it taste great), and PDM is adapting his apple-bourbon barbeque rib recipe by eliminating the salt from the dry rub and other steps. I'll let you know how it all works out. It sure smells good, and with some extra hot sauce and freshly ground pepper we might not even miss the salt.