Sunday, June 3, 2012

Low Sodium 101

I feel like I'm back in school. I'm trying to learn how to prepare low-sodium meals for myself, and so far it's been a bit overwhelming. I research online. I chart everything in a notebook. And I spend a lot of time standing in aisles comparing sodium content. Researching online is easy in the sense that there's a lot of information out there -- and it's hard because...ummm...there's a lot of information out there. There are resources; there's just so much to read.

Thankfully, there are several excellent low sodium blogs out there....written by people who know their way around a kitchen much better than I do. My favorite so far is Don't Pass the Salt. The woman who writes the blog is amazing. Her husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and high blood pressure a few years ago, and she threw herself into figuring out this low-sodium diet stuff. She shares recipes and information about pre-packaged foods, and it's an absolute goldmine. I want to hug her.

Now -- armed with access to her blog -- I'm ready to take the next logical step:  I'm going to find where they live and move in with them. I mean, she's already cooking for her husband. How hard would it be to put another plate on the table?????

OK. Maybe not. I realize that I'm on my own on this one. 

My first self-assigned task was to make homemade spaghetti sauce. I adore Italian food, but canned spaghetti sauce is loaded with sodium. Most brands run more than 450 mg sodium for a 1/2 cup of sauce. Yikes! On Friday I went to three different stores (Whole Foods, Buschs, Walmart) looking for the lowest sodium content I could find for canned, crushed tomatoes. I found a brand at Whole Foods -- bionaturae -- that has 30 mg sodium per 1/2 cup. I thought that the Dei Fratelli brand I found at Walmart had that beat at 15 mg sodium -- until I realized that was based on 1/4 cup. Good thing I was paying attention in elementary school math classes...

I followed a recipe that I found on the Don't Pass the Salt blog:

1 28-oz can salt-free/low sodium crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sugar

Saute onion in olive oil until translucent; add garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, herbs and lesser amount of sugar. Bring to simmer; lower heat and simmer until thickened slightly, around 10 minutes. Taste, and add more sugar if needed.

I made the sauce and would give it a grade of B-.

It was alright, but I don't think I nailed the right herb combination. And, considering that I have zero cooking skills other than being able to read a recipe, I'm at a loss. I want to improve the flavor, but I'm not sure how. I'm hoping one of the Super Chefs in my family can help.

Until then, I'm planning my next task: homemade dough so I can make my own pizza. Should be entertaining.


  1. I would find a low/no salt tomato paste and add in a tablespoon or two to make the sauce taste richer. Using just crushed tomatoes would make it more watery. Add some pepper and go a little heavier on the garlic. You can also puree other veggies and add in. Use things like celery, green and red peppers, carrots, and mushrooms. This will thicken the sauce and make it more complex.

  2. Great suggestions. I wouldn't have thought of the veggie puree! Thank you :)

  3. I also think you should make a large batch of this and then put it into smaller containers and freeze them. That way you can have Italian easily when the mood strikes you!

  4. Nell gave you some great suggestions. Here are another few:

    Regarding spices - could try some thyme, red pepper flakes, splash of red wine vinegar. Definitely more garlic (you know my mantra - there's no such thing as too much garlic). Try adding the spices when you're sauteing the onions (but before garlic so you don't saute the garlic too long). Roast a head of garlic, (I can tell you how to do this if you don't know), mash the cloves into a paste and stir it into the sauce. Or - splurge on some fresh basil or oregano and add it at the very end.

    If you have time, you could give making sauce from fresh tomatoes a whirl. No sodium issues there. Here are a couple of recipes:

    Or skip traditional "sauce" but use fresh tomatoes, similar spices and pasta like this (just watch the amount of parmesan):

    I'd opt for that last recipe and stir in fresh spinach until it's wilted at the end. Freeze it like Nell suggested for the sauce and - pasta dinners in your freezer!

  5. More great suggestions! I'll ask you about the garlic roast next time we talk :-)

  6. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comApril 5, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    Hi Darcy,

    Healthline just published a visualization of your daily value of sodium. In the chart, you can see what half of your DV of salt looks like for 30 foods:

    This is very valuable content as it puts nutrition information into perspective and helps a person understand how much sodium is actually in their food. I thought this would be of interest to your audience and wanted to see if you would include this as a resource on your page:

    If you do not believe this would be a good fit for a resource on your site, even sharing this on your social communities would be a great alternativeto help get the word out.

    Thanks for your time reviewing. Please let me know your thoughts and if there are any questions I can answer.

    All the best,
    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us: