Friday, November 22, 2013

A Low-Sodium Thanksgiving...or not.

Ah.  'Tis the season to eat and eat and eat.  But after writing that I thought to myself, "Jewel...when is it NOT the season for you to eat and eat and eat?"  I live to eat and do a few other things as well, but mostly I think about food, look at food, cook that food, and eat that food.  Which is why living with kidney disease can suuuuck sometimes.  So many dietary rules and regulations.   When I was first diagnosed, my doctors told me I had to start watching my salt intake, and stick to a low-sodium diet.  There is sodium in EVERYTHING, and most of our favorite foods contain lots of it.  Most sources recommend that people with kidney disease or high blood pressure follow a no-salt added procedure when cooking their food at home.  That means, when you cook something, don't add any additional salt.  Sure if what you're making requires cheese or milk or maybe even Italian sausage (high salt by the way), then add it in.  But don't add any other pinch of salt.  I've only been sort of adhering to this rule because A) I don't have kidney disease anymore! I should get a break sometimes; and B) some stuff really needs an extra kick of salt for me to digest it.

Next week, people on low-sodium diets face one of their biggest challenges yet:  how to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal without raising your blood pressure and wanting to blow your brains out because you're tired of adding up sodium milligrams in your head while at the feasting table.  Here are my rules for eating, if you're not hosting Thanksgiving, and cooking if you are:

1.  Salt some things, don't salt others.  If you're hosting Thanksgiving, and actually want people to come back for another holiday, please DO salt your turkey.  I know that sounds crazy coming from me, but there are some holiday traditions that are best done traditionally.  When I first started my diet, my family went hard core no salt.  And one thing I discovered is that most meats taste better with SOME salt on there in the form of actual salt, a sauce, or cheese.  You can get away without salting like crazy if you're making beef.  But everything else, just tastes like a piece of plastic if you don't help it along with some seasoning.  For Thanksgiving, add some salt to the turkey, however much you want.  It's the turkey for goodness sakes! You can go back to eating bland roast chicken the next day, I promise.  

What you don't have to salt:  vegetables.  If you're making something like sauteed kale, green beans, peas, corn, anything with fresh vegetables, you don't need salt.  In fact, I eat most of my vegetables without salt. I add pepper.  With all the other salty foods on the table, I promise you won't even notice.

2.  Don't do packaged!  Second easiest way to avoid extra sodium is to get acquainted with from scratch dishes.  Potato spuds in the box, Stove Top dressing, creamed corn in the can, vegetables in the can, frozen macaroni and cheese...all processed.  All with buckets of salt.  Buy REAL potatoes, look up a stuffing recipe, thaw some frozen corn, and buy your own cheese and some noodles.  It's Thanksgiving, OK.  You'll have all day to cook, hopefully.  No excuses to not attempt the real stuff.

3. Go easy on condiments.  Do you really need to pour gravy and hot sauce ALL over your plate?  No.  You don't.  Yes, gravy is hard to resist.  And I put hot sauce on most things.  It's fun and spicy and makes me sweat.  Do like you would do in a restaurant: pour your gravy in a small dish, and use it for dipping.  Or pour it on one item on your plate, not four.  Plus...that's gross if you're pouring it on four.  Everything in moderation.

4.  Don't stress.  Thanksgiving comes but once a year. And you have the rest of your life to calculate how much salt is in a serving of homemade baked ziti.  Trust me.  I'm six months out from transplant, and I still do it.  Enjoy your time with family and friends, and just be damn thankful that you get another holiday to celebrate. Life is too short to worry about how much salt was put into the homemade dinner rolls.  That said...maybe don't eat five dinner rolls. Settle for two.  With unsalted butter if available.