Friday, March 29, 2013

I love a good diet challenge.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I follow a low-sodium, no processed foods diet.  And I love it! It was rough when I first started (back in high school) but 10 years later I'm pretty happy with it.  The low-sodium portion is something that many people with chronic kidney disease follow.  High blood pressure, a symptom and cause of kidney disease, is linked to high-salt foods.  And let me tell you, it's not hard to have a high-salt lifestyle nowadays. I went out to eat last week at a Mexican restaurant and checked the restaurant's menu online for nutritional values.  To put things into perspective, we're supposed to have 2,300-2,400 milligrams of sodium per DAY.  A single entree at this Mexican restaurant usually EXCEEDED that value.  Yeah...and people wonder why I cook 90% of my meals at home.  If you're up for the challenge, here are the basics of a low-sodium life:

  • Check nutrition labels.   Fortunately, in 2013, you can find nutritional values for just EVERY food you eat nowadays.  Read the labels to see how much sodium is in a particular food. For fresh produce there are are no labels of course.  That's because the amount of sodium in raw, uncooked, uncanned vegetables and meat is negligible.  It's when you veer into the canned/packaged food zone that things get dangerous.  
  • Set a limit.  If the daily recommended value of sodium per say is 2,300 milligrams, that means you need to try dividing up your sodium values per meal and snack.  I usually give myself lower sodium limits (200-300 milligrams) for breakfast and lunch, because I enjoy making big fancy dinners (500-600 milligrams.  Some of my favorite snacks (nuts, yogurt, fresh fruit) run less than 100 milligrams each. 
  • Make fresh mashed potatoes, not boxed.  And that goes for everything else too.  Spaghetti sauce, rice meals, frozen dinners are all LOADED with sodium.  Make your own sauce and you can reduce that amount by HALF.  Which leads me to my next tip...
  • Put down the salt shaker.  Now, I'm nowhere near as strict as I was in high school.  I use coarse sea salt in teeny tiny amounts when I cook.  But some low-sodium enthusiasts recommend not using ANY SALT, AT ALL.  It is possible!  And the good thing: your taste buds over time learn to adapt to the way food is really supposed to taste. And guess what--it's actually good without all that salt.  What should you try instead?  Never use salt substitute for one.  And second, get acquainted with your spices and herbs.  I love garlic, onion, and hot peppers.  I overload on other spices so that I don't feel tempted to pile on the salt.  And keep in mind, that a lot of foods already have some small amounts of sodium in them. I made homemade mac and cheese the other night.  Three cheeses and the milk are already pretty well salted.   
So that's a low-sodium diet. But that's not the new diet challenge.  I went to the doctor on Tuesday and they told me that my potassium running high.  Potassium helps regulate your heartbeat and protect your muscles, and the kidneys, when they're working right (which mine aren't) make sure you don't have too much of it.  Diets high in potassium tend to the be the healthiest of diets.  Which is why I was not surprised to find that all the foods considered high in potassium are some of my favorite foods.  Just a few:  orange juice, pomegranate, black beans, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, milk, yogurt, nuts and seeds. 

Because my potassium is so high, my doctors have recommended that I go on a low potassium diet. Foods that are low in potassium include: blackberries, pineapple, strawberries, peas, fresh mushrooms, pasta, and my favorite...Coffee and Tea! 

Maintaining low sodium and low potassium is going to be a bit more difficult than I imagined. It's been a few days and the same way that I got acquainted with all the sodium levels in many of my favorite foods, I'm starting to learn how much potassium is in much of what we eat.  Just a few examples:

  • Special K Red Berries, one of my fave cereals, has 60 milligrams of potassium, and 260 milligrams of sodium;
  • Kettle Chips, regular, which actually don't carry much sodium (only 120 mil), have 500 milligrams of potassium;
  • Bottled orange juice, has 560 milligrams of potassium and about 50 milligrams of sodium
  • Milk, 360 milligrams of potassium and can run up to about 150 milligrams of sodium per cup.
So you see how complicated things can get!  It's a bit depressing to think that I'll have to limit my spinach, tomato and yogurt consumption, all things that I love dearly. But on the other hand, maybe I can up my yellow cake, pasta, and coffee consumption??? Maybe?  I just have to get really creative. So last night I was craving ice cream.  Again, we had none because we tore through that one tub I ice cream I bought a few weeks ago within like 2 days.  And that's why I don't keep ice cream in the apartment.  Ice cream has dairy and, most of the time, chocolate in it--two things considered high in potassium. So going crazy on another tub is probably not the best idea.  So I decided to make a chocolate icy (I think that's how you spell it).  Someone just got Ben and I an awesome hand blender off our wedding registry, so this was a great way to break it in.  I combined ice, three table spoons of hot chocolate mix, and 1/4 cup of milk.  Blend and boom...chocolate icy.  Low in potassium, low in sodium.  High in sugary satisfaction :)  Let's hope I can keep this up for the next month or so.