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Photo from http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/5-ways-to-use-less-salt

 

Limiting sodium can be a bit tricky at first. Most of the flavor we enjoy in food comes from one of three things: sugar, fat, or salt. Our palates just love the tasty stuff. And the more of it we eat, the more we need to experience the same pleasurable taste sensation. Sound kind of like addiction to you? Ehhhhh-xactly.

Besides flavor, sodium is also used as a preservative in many foods and often foods that don’t even taste salty, which can be confusing for some people just learning about limiting sodium.

Anyway, it is possible to decrease sodium intake without eating tasteless cardboard. I promise! There are several ways to increase flavor and leave the sodium out:

  • Herbs and spices: These are the best! Natural, delicious, and many are anti-inflammatory. Find a bulk section (like Winco) or grow your own for the best value. Check out the chart below from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for tips on matching herbs and spices to the food you’re making tonight:
    Food Item Flavorings
    Beef Basil, bay leaf, caraway, curry, dill, dry mustard, garlic, grape jelly, green pepper, mace, marjoram, mushrooms, nutmeg, onion, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage
    Chicken Basil, cloves, cranberries, mace, mushrooms, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, pineapple, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, tomato, turmeric
    Egg Chervil, curry, dill, dry mustard, green pepper, lemon juice, marjoram, mushrooms, paprika, pepper, tarragon, tomato, turmeric
    Fish Basil, bay leaf, chervil, curry, dill, dry mustard, green pepper, lemon juice, marjoram, mushrooms, paprika, pepper, tarragon, tomato, turmeric
    Lamb Cloves, curry, dill, garlic, mace, mint, mint jelly, onion, oregano, parsley, pineapple, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
    Pork Applesauce, basil, caraway, chives, cloves, garlic, onions, rosemary, thyme
    Vegetables Basil, dill, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, tarragon, tomato, salt-free salad dressing, vinegar
    Desserts Allspice, anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, vanilla extract
  • Pre-made spice mixes: If you aren’t big on growing or buying herbs yourself, you can get a little help from sodium-free spice mix products like Mrs. Dash. The Mrs. Dash line has several pre-made spice mixes like Caribbean Citrus, Italian Medley, or Steak Grilling seasonings, all made without salt. I personally have only tried the original and I like it, especially on fish. I have several patients who have tried other flavors with success!
  • Lite salt/salt substitutes: These are usually made with potassium chloride as opposed to sodium chloride (table salt) to decrease intakes of sodium. I use it at home and in recipes and the taste is similar enough I don’t notice it. Be aware: people with kidney disease or who are on certain diuretic blood pressure medications should not use salt substitutes because their bodies can not clear potassium as well as others. Ask your doctor before switching to salt substitute if you have any of these concerns.

And lastly, be patient! Your tastes will adjust to the point where they will enjoy the flavors of food with less salt, but it does take time. Most of my patients say that after 4-6 weeks of limiting sodium, the high-sodium foods they used to eat taste way too salty for them! You can do it!


Photo from www.eatingwell.com

                      Photo and recipe from www.eatingwell.com

 

Recipe feature time! My awesome husband made these amazing pork chops and they were probably the most delicious pork chops I have ever had. Smothered in mushrooms and surprisingly flavorful sauce (I had to ask him three times if he added extra salt to the sauce), these pork chops leftovers barely lasted 2 days. I would eat these almost every week if I could!


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Today was my last day on the heart healthy diet. I learned a lot nutritionally and psychologically in the last few weeks. I’ve summarized my take-away into 4 main points:

  1. Limiting sodium was (mostly) easier than I expected. At first, things are a little bland and it seems like there are a lot of things you “can’t have,” but over time I saw that I had several days well under 2,400 mg so I started adding a sprinkle of salt to bland food and found I did have a little room to add some sodium. You do also get used to needing less salt for flavor. I learned some tricks for adding flavor without salt also, so I’ll make a post about that in the future. Be careful, though, because certain foods can blow almost your entire sodium budget in one fell swoop…*cough* seafood fettuccini *cough*.
  2. Limiting saturated fat was quite a bit harder than I expected. Those saturated fat grams are sneaky little suckers! I went into the heart healthy diet assuming sodium would be my biggest challenge and I quickly learned that saturated fat was much more difficult to keep within my 12 gram per day limit. Saturated fat is primarily from animal sources like butter, lard, dairy fat, and meat fat. The way I generally teach people to limit saturated fat is to eat oil-based spreads (instead of butter), low-fat or nonfat dairy, and lean meats and fish. I figured since I mostly eat that way I wouldn’t have to worry much about saturated fat on this diet. I was wrong! More often than not, halfway through the day I would check my saturated fat consumption and find it well over halfway through the budget. I now know that if patients are committed to limiting their saturated fat within recommendations, they probably need more specific guidelines and tips to keep that in check.
  3. Having dietary “restrictions” is a nasty mind game. It makes your inner petulant toddler come out: What do you mean I can’t have it? I want it! Suddenly I want lots of it! It’s a tricky thing to navigate when educating people about how to properly care for their bodies and live a life worth living.
  4. Fish is expensive. Very expensive. And I rarely get 2-3 servings per week. Unless you’re eating tuna all the time, getting in 2-3 servings per week racks up the grocery budget awfully quick-like.

Overall, I pretty much broke even on every outcome I was measuring, which didn’t really surprise me because I wasn’t eating in a drastically different way from how I normally eat. I did much better this week on my own than I did last because I made a more concerted effort to keep my saturated fat down.

  Heart Healthy Goal Week #1 Week #2 Week #3
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 6 4 6
Average calorie intake <2000 1831 1571 1581
Average sodium intake <2400 mg 2064 mg 2033 mg 1972 mg
Average saturated fat intake <12 g 10.2 g 13.7 g 11.4 g (I left out the outlier of date day)
Weight change   -1 lb 0 lb +.5 lb
Blood pressure change   -5/-6 mmHg -2/-4 mmHg +8/+2 mmHg
Waist change   -.75″ -.25″ +.25″
Grocery Budget Change   +75% -65% 0%

 

So that about wraps up my experience on the heart healthy diet, though I have some more posts coming your way about limiting sodium and saturated fat. The next thing to do is select my next diet – and that is your job! Check out the poll (left sidebar if you’re on a computer, very bottom of the page if you’re on a mobile device) to vote for my next diet!


So I gotta be honest – I’m about 2 and 1/2 weeks into the Heart Healthy diet, and it’s getting to that mental point where I kinda just want to eat something REALLY salty. Because I LOVE salt, and there is that mental game we play where anything we are limiting suddenly becomes highly desirable. This is where things get tough. Yesterday, the rubber met the road.

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One weekend a month, the kids go to grandma’s and my husband and I have date weekend. This img_0706particular weekend is date weekend and yesterday, Charlie and I went a-wandering. We started out at one of our favorite breakfast places and I wanted something delicious and I also tried to get something that would be mostly heart healthy: huevos rancheros. They make these with a crunchy taco shell, black beans, poached eggs, cheese, and avocado. Mostly low in sodium and pretty darn low in saturated fat. I ate half the plate and took the rest home. So far, so good.

Mid-morning we walked around a park and got a tad chilly in the fall air, so we went to a local coffee shop and I wanted a pumpkin steamer. To be true to my heart healthy diet, I elected to have it made with soy milk (though fat free milk would have been fine) to avoid saturated fat. So far, still good.

Then it got tough. We drove up to Tacoma to check out some stores and about mid-day hunger set in. I had a craviimg_0708ng for some super-not-heart-healthy tortilla chips with nacho cheese. Cheap, not-even-food, concession-stand machine, plasticky pasteurized processed cheese product straight from 7-11. Definitely not conducive to meeting my nutritional goals for the day, particularly since I knew we had plans to go to another restaurant for dinner and I needed to save sodium and saturated fat for that. But I was started to listen to the devil on the shoulder: “You’re sick of watching your sodium. Come ooooonn…you’ve been so good for 2 and 1/2 weeks! Just don’t worry about it.” He was right – I was sick of limiting my sodium! So there! I’m going to eat it and I don’t even care!
So I ate it. And it was just as satisfying as I anticipated it would be. Alright, worth it. Maybe for dinner I’ll try to pick something more carefully.

We went to a nice restaurant for dinner and I thought I might to try getting a lean meat with some steamed veggies and maybe a roll or something. Then I got my menu and there it was – my favorite food. Seafood fettuccine. Ooooohhhhh boy.

At least I got the salad instead of the chowder...right?

At least I got the salad instead of the chowder…right?

 

I got it. I had to. It was amazing. In the whole day I overdid my calories by 300, exceeded my sodium goal by over 900 mg (I had 138% of my daily goal!) and blew my saturated fat out of the water by more than quadruple with that cheesy nacho goodness and creamy white wine butter sauce.

If I had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, this one day probably wouldn’t have been too big of a deal as long as it didn’t happen super often. If I had congestive heart failure, my sodium binge could have hospitalized me. Here enlies the mental game of a “diet,” which also tends to be one of my least favorite things about the idea of dieting. Diets are likely to promote this pendulum swing from restriction to bingeing. For me, it’s much more desirable to focus on including lots of the things that are really good for me than focus on restricting things that aren’t as good and overall promoting healthful moderation, for this very reason. But it’s super tricky if not restricting something could land you in a hospital bed or worse.

Things are back to normal now that I got my crazy day out of my system, but anyway, I wanted to make sure I kept myself honest and took note of this mental game – even dietitians are not immune to the psychology of “dieting!”


img_0696Well, folks…week 2 is done! And unfortunately, I have become an incubus of the common cold as of yesterday. Goodie. In light of my crummy cough and angry sore throat I have resorted primarily to applesauce, soup, and nonfat frozen yogurt as my primary sustenance for the time being, but I still stayed within my nutrition goals while sick.

I was surprised to notice that I had a hard time meeting my saturated fat goal while on my own this week – I never went over on my sodium, believe it or not – but I was over on my saturated fat 3 out of 7 days. I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to watch that this week.

 

  Heart Healthy Goal Week #1 Week #2 Week #3
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 6 4  
Average calorie intake <2000 1831 1571  
Average sodium intake <2400 mg 2064 mg 2033 mg  
Average saturated fat intake <12 g 10.2 g 13.7  
Weight change   -1 lb 0 lb  
Blood pressure change   -5/-6 mmHg -2/-4 mmHg  
Waist change   -.75″ -.25″  
Grocery Budget Change   +75% -65%


So why is it that the Heart Healthy diet recommendations limit sodium? It’s highly unfortunate, as sodium is ever so tasty in many applications including (but not limited to) flavorful broths, crunchy kettle chips, and spicy sausage. Those are just a few of my personal high-sodium loves. Limiting sodium is tough for me because I can really go to town on the stuff. I’m not big on sweets – I can stay away from candies and pastries for the most part but put me near a good cracker with sharp cheese or salty chip and you have to fend me off with a stick. Limiting sodium can be a challenge. So what’s the benefit of doing it?

Research studies have shown that a lower sodium or sodium chloride (table salt) intake was associated with significantly lower BP in adults with normal, slightly elevated, or high blood pressure. In most studies, “high sodium intakes” ranged from 2400-4800 mg per day while “low sodium intakes” ranged from 440 (holy low sodium!) to 2640 mg per day (Some study examples: Bray, 2004; Coruzzi, 2001; Geleijnese, 2003; He, 2004). You may wonder why sodium makes a difference in blood pressure. You are wondering, aren’t you? Of course you are.

Well surprise, surprise, it’s complicated! Bodies are complicated. The primary explanation is due to sodium’s role in directing how much fluid the body holds on to. Generally I explain it this way: Sodium and water are friends. Wherever sodium goes, water goes too – linked arm-in-arm with charged chemical attractions (oo la la!). So when we eat a lot of sodium (hello, pizza binge), our body holds on to a lot of water to hang out with it (hello, puffy bloat body). Some people notice the extra water because their feet, ankles, face, or belly swell with it. Some people can’t even tell it’s on board.

Photo: http://doodle-rama.blogspot.com/2006/04/heart-attack.html

Illustration from http://doodle-rama.blogspot.com/2006/04/heart-attack.html

Either way, all this extra water has to move around the body to get filtered and whatnot. Guess whose job it is to move it? Your heart! Poor heart is pumping blood through the hoses of your veins and you’ve just increased the volume he has to move. His best response is to create more pressure to push all that extra fluid around to get rid of it. So, he pumps even harder and your blood pressure rises. That’s rough on him, as well as all of your hoses because in some places in your body (like your eyes and kidneys for example), your body has leeeeetle, tiny hoses that don’t respond well to pressure. Think fire hose pressure in your little green garden hose. Not a good match.

So the goal of the Heart Healthy diet in limiting sodium is to keep blood pressure within healthy ranges for your heart and blood vessels. Now, as with everything in the realm of nutrition, there is debate about this. A few studies have recently been published that throw some doubt into the mix about the role of sodium in blood pressure regulation.

One such study by NutriNet-Santé found that sodium intake alone was not related to an increase in blood pressure, but rather found that the ratio of sodium intake to potassium intake was a much stronger predictor. Potassium is known as a helpful regulator of high blood pressure and foods high in potassium (like fruits and vegetables) are commonly promoted in diets recommended to lower blood pressure. Interestingly, I’ve been having a heck of a time meeting my potassium goals on this diet. More fruit! More vegetables!

There have been other studies that have suggested a notion of “salt responders” – people whose blood pressure is affected by their sodium intakes vs. others whose is not.

More research to come I hope! But overall, that’s a quick look at why we watch sodium as a contributor in the realm of promoting strong, healthy, not overworked hearts. Come back soon for ideas on how to cut sodium without sacrificing flavor (and joy)!


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Yesterday I completed my first week of the Heart Healthy diet, which also means I’m off the meal plan today (yay!). Overall, I’m not finding this way of eating too difficult, though the meal plan certainly could have added more sodium-free and low saturated fat flavoring methods to certain dishes to reduce their blah factor (here’s lookin’ at you, plain cooked pearled barley). For the most part, this is the way I typically eat, though I am a big salt lover (more posts on that to come). There have been a couple of notable differences:

I’ve definitely upped my fish intake, which is a great healthful change. My fiber intake has also increased,  and my digestive system took note, veered off of the approved course, made adjustments, and returned to the regularly scheduled program. Fear not – we are back on track.

I’m looking forward to doing Heart Healthy on my own for the next two weeks and experimenting with sodium-free ways to flavor things. Check out the table below to see how my last week went.

  Heart Healthy Goal Week #1 Week #2 Week #3
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 6    
Average calorie intake <2000 1831    
Average sodium intake <2400 mg 2064 mg    
Average saturated fat intake <12 g 10.2 g    
Weight change   -1 lb    
Blood pressure change   -5/-6 mmHg    
Waist change   -.75″    
Grocery Budget Change   +75%  

 

Now on to the next week! Check out this tiny pile of groceries to go with all my meal plan leftovers!

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Alright, here goes a new post (some might call it a rant) about my feelings on meal plans. I gotta tell ya, I love to hate ’em. Making them, selecting them, and most of all, following them. They are stinky, like fish. That will make more sense in a few paragraphs. Promise.

Why are they stinky, you ask? Well I would be more than happy to tell you.

The food we eat is connected to everything in our lives. Everything. Your budget, your spouse (or lack of spouse), your kids (and their preferences, allergies, and appetites), your schedule, your culture, and your mood all play in to the food you choose to eat. That being said, someone would have to thoroughly understand all of those things about you in order to select foods that are good options for a meal plan for you. Now, how many meal plan makers know you that well?

Take the meal plan I’m currently on, for example. The meal plan ingredients increased my grocery budget by 75%! Typically I use dinner leftovers for lunches, but this meal plan uses NO leftovers for ANYTHING. You know what that gets you (besides an expensive grocery trip)? A fridge full of leftovers waiting to go bad. It also leaves you cooking two meals every night – dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Not sustainable, functional, or enjoyable.

My final gripe about following meal plans made by others? Sometimes I just don’t like the food. Like, for example, coleslaw. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s on the meal plan, because the person who made it didn’t know me and my lack of appreciation for coleslaw. So here I am, either eating coleslaw or feeling as though I somehow “failed” my meal plan because I didn’t like it.

And you know what else (yes, I lied about the final gripe part)? As a dietitian, my goal is to empower my patients to live a healthy life they love. Now even if I gave them the perfect meal plan that worked great for their lifestyle, are they empowered? What will they do when the week-long meal plan is over? Will they just eat the same food week after week forever?

Of course not.

Remember the old saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for the rest of his life”? Well, a meal plan is a fish.

I can give someone a meal plan fish and they can meet their nutritional goals for a week (if they can manage to stick with a meal plan someone else made), or I can teach someone how to plan for themselves and meet their health and quality of life goals. Truly, they are the only ones who know themselves well enough to do it. It’s not easy and it’s awkward at first, but once they get the hang of it they are empowered. They can eat for life – on a budget and with foods they love! And that is why I love what I do!

And why I hate stinky meal plan fish. End rant.


Want a hint? It doesn’t look like this:

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Okay, here comes my first video! Editing is bad and trying to find a better video editor put me a day late (and still didn’t fix it), but I’ll get better!

Want to learn more about carbohydrates? Check out my post here.

Need some ideas of foods high in protein? Here ya go.

Photo from www.nutrientsreview.com.