Imagine a world where you can improve your health just by eating. No, not thick protein shakes or chalky meal replacements but bright, bold, beautiful food—food that makes your mouth water and entices friends to come over for dinner (and ask for seconds!), food that deserves to be on the cover of a magazine, and food that people crave.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
For most people, just by filling their plates with less-processed products and more fresh ingredients, they can reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In particular, recent research has shown that a lower sodium diet is your best bet for health.
And the truth is that low-sodium diets seem less like food and more like a prescription⎯one that requires ditching favorite dishes, convenience, and routine. After receiving a diagnosis that seems to steal your health, it is understandable that you would refuse to give up anything else, including culinary comforts and life’s little joys. Since my lupus diagnosis a few years ago, I've discovered how⎯with a little effort, creativity, and the following tips⎯low-sodium food can be more than merely palatable; it can be fresh, colorful, and full of flavor, even something you’re excited to dig into.
SURPRISE YOURSELF AND YOUR PALATE
The best way to overcome the craving for salt is to explore ingredients, foods, and cuisines that are new to you. The element of surprise is the best sodium-replacement out there. And just by putting something unexpected (like Chinese five spice) into a favorite recipe, you’ll notice the new flavors rather than the missing salt.
Chinese Five Spice Quinoa Meatballs
1/2 cup washed quinoa
1/2 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
Palm-full finely chopped shiitake mushroom
1 Tbsp green onion, minced
1 tsp salt-free Chinese five spice
1 tsp salt-free garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt-free allspice powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Splash of molasses
01. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
02. Put the quinoa and 1 cup water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once you have lively bubble action, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Check occasionally and stir to make sure no quinoa is burning at the bottom of the pan. Take the saucepan off the heat, transfer the quinoa to a medium mixing bowl, and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
03. While the quinoa is cooling, add all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Using your hands or a spoon, mix until the ingredients are well combined.
04. Shape the meat mixture into balls that are a little smaller than golf balls. Place them in even rows on the lined baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven and cook the meatballs until they’re slightly browned and crispy on top, 12 to 15 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the safe internal temperature for pork is 165 F.
MAKE THE MOST OF NATURAL FLAVORS
All five culinary tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, umami, and yes, salty—occur naturally in foods. Ingredients like celery, beets, carrots, beef, and shellfish all contain higher amounts of sodium. Don’t avoid them, but use them to your cooking advantage!
Golden Carrot Ginger Dressing
1 medium carrot, chopped into rounds
1/4 white onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup grapeseed or olive oil
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsps orange juice
01. Fill a small pot with 2 inches of water and then place a metal steamer basket on top, above the water. Place the carrot pieces in the steamer basket and with the lid on, steam over medium heat until the carrots are super tender, about 20 minutes.
02. Add the white onion, garlic, ginger, and oil to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Add the carrot, vinegar, and orange juice and blend again until totally smooth. Slather, dip, and dress immediately or refrigerate until use. Will keep in the fridge for about a week.
Note: If you want to bump up the flavor and natural sodium, try adding (or replacing the carrot with) one small yellow beet, peeled and steamed.
If there’s a dish you miss, then find a way to make it low sodium-friendly with ingredient swaps. Don’t be afraid to look to other special diets (gluten-free, vegan, and Paleo) for genius food tricks and inspiration. You might just find that your recipe makeover not only makes your favorite meals lower-sodium but easier to cook and a lot more interesting.
Broccoli Bread Crumbs
When you find yourself with a bunch of broccoli florets, don’t stuff them inside the casserole or the gratin. Layer them on top for unexpected crunch.
Finely dice the tops of the broccoli (saving the stems for slaw) until you have a quarter cup of "crumbs." Then, mix with a few tablespoons of olive oil—you can add unsalted chopped nuts or crushed toasted pumpkin seeds to the mixture as well for extra texture. About 10 minutes before your baked casserole, beans, or pasta finishes cooking, increase the heat to 400 F and sprinkle the broccoli bread crumbs on top. Cook until they become darker in color and crisp.