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Frequently Asked Questions, Tips and Tricks


So I'm on a Low Sodium Diet ...

I was diagnosed with CHF almost 4 years ago. At that point my main symptom was lung congestion. I couldn't sleep through the night without coughing or carry anything upstairs without being out of breath. My doctor put me on a diet of 1200 mg of sodium a day. Today between that diet and mediation I don't really feel limited at all (Ok, I'm not gonna run a marathon, put then I wouldn't have anyway). A specialist I went to a few years ago says there is no reason I should have less than a normal life expectancy. So there is hope ... and the diet does work.

It is difficult though, especially at first. You truly do get used to things not being salty ... a "normal" potato chip tastes way too salty to me now. But it takes a while ... and a commitment to eating the way you should ... to make that adjustment and get used to the taste of food without salt. I'd suggest that whoever does the grocery shopping spend a lot of time reading labels. You'll be surprised what you find. For example a tablespoonful of catsup on your burger will give you more sodium than that helping of chips. I found some things that actually had almost twice my daily allowance in one serving ... prepared mixes and frozen entrees are going to be a thing of the past.

I would suggest that one of the most useful things you can do when just starting out is to take a hour or two and spend them just wandering up and down the aisles of your local supermarket, picking up things you would normally use and reading the labels. Not only will this get you started in thinking about how much sodium is in certain foods, but if you check different brands or types of the same food you'll often find that one has a lot less sodium than the others.

Some things to stay away from are going to be almost all canned vegetables and prepared foods like chili, packaged mixes of all kinds and frozen prepared meals and entrees. You may find low sodium versions of some of those if you look. Our local Safeway here in southern Maryland, for instance, carries no salt added canned tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Other things like chili and soups will probably be harder to find. Oragnic food processors are often your best bet. If you live near a store that specializes in organic and gourmet foods like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods you'll probably find more low sodium items there.

A couple of things that I personally have found to be particularly troublesome are bread and cheese, both of which I ate a lot of before being put on this diet. Almost all commercial baked goods like bread contains significant sodium, anywhere from 70 mg a slice to 400-500 mg for some muffins and bagels. I bake almost all my own bread. With a bread machine this is not difficult or time consuming and it saves you a lot. If you don't have a bread machine there are instructions below for converting a nread machine recipe to hand made. The only really low sodium cheese I can find here locally is Swiss, at about 45 mg a slice. Most other cheese is 180-200 or more milligrams per serving.


Dos and Donts

The following is a VERY quick and dirty guide to general sodium content by type of food. There are lots of exceptions. Learning to read the nutritional labels in the best way to really know what you are getting.

Low in sodium

Moderate sodium - use carefully (in this group I typically either buy low sodium versions of the products or make my own)

High in sodium


Vinegar

Just a quick little tip ... your taste buds have a difficult time sorting out the difference between salty and sour, so you can often fool them into thinking a dish is saltier than it is with the addition of a little vinegar. This works particularly well for recipes containing no salt added tomato products. I probably have at least 6 different kinds of vinegar on my shelf, cider, red wine, white, white wine, balsamic and malt, as well as Japanese rice vinegar.


Egg Substitute

You'll notice that many of the recipes call for egg substitute rather than whole eggs. The reason I use it is I'm also trying to watch my cholesterol, so I trade off the extra 25 mg of sodium for reduced cholesterol. If cholesterol isn't an issue for you, it cheaper and easier to just use whole eggs. I use the Safeway brand egg substitute that is similar to Egg Beaters. It's basically colored egg whites with some vitamins and minerals. You could also just use egg whites in most of the recipes, but I'm the kind of guy whose Mother did too good of a job teaching to clean my plate and I have a tough time just throwing the yolks away. The "real" whites have more sodium than the yolks too, by the way, so you don't save by doing that.


Sodium Free Baking Powder

In my humble opinion, this is a no-brainer. If you bake anything that uses baking powder with the regular stuff off your grocer's shelves you are eating sodium that can easily be avoiding. Given the amount of sodium in standard baking powder it's likely to be 100-200 mgs per serving. Some doctors also believe the aluminum in regular baking powder is bad for you. The simple solution is sodium free, aluminum free baking powder. There are several brands available, but the only one I've actually seen is Featherweight. I find it at a local health food store. It's also available for just about the same price online at Healthy Heart Market. The price is also comparable to the regular baking powder. Clabber Girl has also begun marketing a reduced sodium version of their Rumford brand baking powder. It's not as low as the Featherweight, but it's widely available in supermarkets.

Brand
Sodium Content
Calumet Baking Powder  120 mg per 1/4 teaspoon serving
Featherweight Sodium Free Baking Powder  0 mg per 1/4 teaspoon serving
Rumford Reduced Sodium Baking Powder  70 mg per 1/4 teaspoon serving


Sodium Free Baking Soda

Like baking powder, regular baking soda is unnecessary sodium intake. The brand of sodium free baking soda I'm familiar with is Ener-G and the only place I've seen it is online at Healthy Heart Market. The only thing you need to remember is to double the amount called for in your favorite recipes. The recipes here on this site already have the amount doubled.

Brand
Sodium Content
Arm and Hammer Baking Soda  150 mg per 1/8 teaspoon serving
Ener-G Baking Soda  0 mg per 1/8 teaspoon 


Bouillon

What a difference being "salt free" makes. An envelope of regular bouillon contains over 200 times as much sodium as the low sodium variety. Wyler's make a low sodium bouillon, although none of my local stores carry it. So does Herb Ox and it is readily available around here. The only bad news is they quit packaging it in the more convenient jars and only sell it in the little single serving envelopes now. You might also check out the Gourmet Award soup base from Healthy Heart Market. It's sodium free and has a more natural taste than the bouillon.

Brand
Sodium Content
Herb Ox Regular Beef 1020 mg per envelope
Herb Ox Low Sodium Beef 5 mg of envelope
Gourmet Award Beef 0 mg per envelope
Hear Ox Regular Chicken 1100 mg per envelope
Herb Ox Low Sodium Chicken 5 mg of envelope
Gourmet Award Chicken 0 mg per envelope


Eating Out

First the good news ... most fast food restaurants now post nutritional information for their offerings. The bad news is that it only serves to confirm that you have no business being there. But there are ways you can enjoy a meal away from home without blowing your diet. Many restaurants are very helpful in helping you identify low sodium choices and in making sure that salt or salt containing seasonings are not added to your food. I've had the best luck with grills or steak houses where you can almost always get a piece of unseasoned grilled meat and a baked potato. Be careful of the salad dressing, though. It's best to get it on the side and only add a little or pack a little plastic container of one of your homemade ones to take along. Taking along a shaker of your favorite spice blend is a good idea also.


Converting a Bread Machine Recipe to Hand Made

Bread machines generally have you put all the liquid ingredients in, then all the dry, although some do it the other way around. Most keep the yeast separate from the liquid until the kneading. When making bread by hand, start with the yeast, liquid & sugar, then other ingredients except the flour, and finally the flour. Most recipes not designed for a bread machine give you a range of flour ... sometime you need more or less. So you might want to start with  1/4 to 1/2 cup less than the recipe say and then add more until the dough reaches the right consistency.

Start with warm water or whatever liquid the recipe calls for. Around 85 degrees F is about right.  The idea is to get it warm enough so the yeast grows, but not so warm to kill it. Mix the wet ingredients and yeast together with a spoon. Add and stir in flour until it gets too stiff to stir. Dump it out onto a floured counter or breadboard and knead until the surface is smooth adding more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Grease a large bowl. Grease the dough top by placing it into the greased bowl, then turning it over so the greased part is on top and the ungreased is on the bottom. Cover with a cloth and put someplace warm to raise until doubled in bulk.

When doubled, punch down, form a loaf by kneading and shaping then put in a greased loaf pan or on a greased baking sheet. Let rise until almost doubled, place into a preheated 375 degree oven and bake until done.

This, of course, is just one way to make bread by hand.  It follows the traditional way of doing it. In cookbooks you'll find many other methods, including some that reduce the amount of kneading by mixing up some of the ingredients with a mixer or food processor.  Generally speaking you can use any recipe or method that you like, just substituting the ingredients.


Converting Hand Made Bread Recipes for the Bread Machine

Many of the bread recipes I use started life as a high sodium, hand made recipe. Generally, most bread recipes that you find on web sites or in cookbooks can be made low sodium just by leaving out the salt. The only other thing you need to look out for are high sodium ingredients like cheddar cheese or pepperoni. There is one issue that occasionally comes up when leaving out the salt. Sometimes when baking salt free bread the top of the loaf will collapse. This happens because salt helps to control the yeast and without it bread tends to rise too fast and then collapse on top.  Reducing the yeast by up to a third usually helps.  I've heard from some subscribers that they reduce the yeast even more than that with good results. Reducing the amount of water by a couple of tablespoons so the dough is thicker tends to help more.  Some recipes seem to be more likely to have this problem than others.  And it seemed to happen more in the machine I used to have with the vertical pan than the horizontal one I have now. I've included some general guidelines for the amount of yeast below.

The other main problem encountered in converting them to a bread machine is that many make multiple loaves, so you will need to change to recipe to a size that will fit in your bread machine.  Most bread machines produce some combination of 1 pound,  1 1/2 pound or 2 pound loaves. The general rule is that 1 pound loaves contain about 2 cups of flour and other dry ingredients, 1 1/2 pound loaves about 3 cups and 2 pound loaves about 4 cups. Any recipe calling for approximately 6 cups of flour and other grains can be easily converted to a 1 pound loaf by dividing all the ingredients by 3 or a 1 1/2 pound loaf by dividing all the ingredients by 2. This applies to everything except the yeast. There you should start with the guidelines below.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for operating the bread machine.


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