I didn't always make the right eating choices. I ate very few vegetables, and think I went years without picking up a actual piece of fruit. When I got sick, I was forced to eat better, reluctantly. In the beginning, it was very hard. I had rarely cooked anything but the most basic vegetables and the salads I was used to were loaded with cheese and meat and other fattening things. That left me with a very uninteresting variety of healthy choices. After awhile I began to try new vegetables and add more fruit in my diet.
I thought I was eating healthier, but I still faced some unexpected challenges. I was counting my carbohydrates and weighing my food. I lost weight and the doctor decreased my blood pressure medicine. Then my blood pressure started climbing. I was confused. What was going on?
Fact: When manufacturers lower the fat in a product, they increase amount of salt in it to "add flavor". So every product that is
"light" or "low fat", has a higher sodium count than the original. It
makes it hard if you are trying to lose weight because without realizing
it you can send your blood pressure rocketing.
So now I watch my sugar and my sodium. Controlling salt in your diet is much harder than controlling your sugar. Manufacturers put salt in everything. That creates a challenge when shopping. Best advice I can give: READ THE LABELS! Compare products and select the ones with the lowest amounts of sodium and carb counts.
I have looked for products I can use and below is some of what they are and where I have found them. Many specialized low-sodium and sugar-free items are sold online. The ones on this list are ones easily available at local grocery stores.
Bread: Size does make a difference! A lot of bread in the larger slices have so many carbs you can only have one slice. Better to have two smaller slices and be able to make a sandwich. Nature's Own Whole Grain Sugar-free bread tastes great and is low in carbs. You can find it at Food Lion and Harris Teeter grocery stores. Bread has salt in it, so when I started watching my sodium, I started using one of the few low-sodium breads that you can easily find in your local grocery store. It's called Ezekiel 4:9 and it is in the freezer section or in the health food freezer section. I've found it at Whole Foods and Kroger grocery stores. It has no preservatives, so if you don't go through a loaf of bread quickly it's best to keep it in your own freezer. I just take out my two slices, pop them in the toaster and I am good to go. If you do not like to toast your bread, just leave your slices out for a bit and they will thaw and be fine. There is 0 sodium in each slice, and it has a nutty, whole grain flavor.
Oatmeal is the healthiest breakfast you can have. Quaker or store brand, it doesn't matter, just don't buy the boxes of single-serve packets! They have unnecessary salt and sugar and taste almost too sweet. Even the ones labeled "lower sugar". Quick cooking oats in the large container cooks just as fast in the microwave and has 0 sodium in it and low in sugar.
If you crave the fancy flavors like apple-cinnamon, just take a tablespoon of no-sugar added apple sauce or some chopped apple, add cinnamon or apple pie spice, mix in and cook. For maple/cinnamon, a little squirt of sugar-free maple syrup stirred with a sprinkle of cinnamon. I put !/4 of a banana sliced up into mine before I put it in the microwave. Nuke it and stir, it melts right in. I add cinnamon and fat-free milk, and if I have blueberries, I'll sprinkle a few on the top. Note: 1/4 dry oatmeal makes 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal.
Pancake syrup: There are several sugar-free brands available in your local grocery store. Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, Walden Farms, Maple Grove Farms, Atkins and Cary's are the ones I've seen. Plenty to choose from. I use the Cary's brand, though I haven't tried them all.
Pancake mix/Baking mix: Pancake mixes and baking mixes like Bisquick
are high in salt. You can make your own pancake mix and store it in a
storage container, or look for Hodgson Mill Multipurpose Baking Mix.
It is gluten free and sodium free and makes pretty good pancakes. I add a little cinnamon and raisins to the batter and
my husband loves them. You can also substitute this for any recipe
calling for a baking mix. I've also used
Arrowhead Mills Organic Oat Bran Pancake and Waffle Mix. It makes a
denser pancake with a wheat flavor than the Hodgson Mill brand, and
though it's not sodium free, there's only 75mg. in two 5-inchpancakes
so it's not bad. I've found both brands at Kroger.
Peanut butter & Jelly: I use Crazy Richards All Natural Peanut Butter. It comes in both smooth and chunky and has 0 sodium. It makes great peanut butter cookies and in sandwiches. I top it with Smuckers or Polaner brand sugar-free jams and jellies. It tastes great. I've had my daughter taste test this and she prefers Crazy Richards to "regular" PB brands. If you do not want to be bothered with a natural peanut butter because you have to stir it, use Simply Jif. It is lower in sugar and salt than the other name brands.
I found Crazy Richards in my local Harris Teeter and the Smuckers and Polaner brands are found in most grocery stores.
Cream cheese: As I said before, low-fat or light cream cheese has more sodium than regular cream cheese, and fat-free cream cheese has more sodium than light. I've looked at every brand and the lowest in sodium while still being low fat (not fat free) and available in local grocery stores is Weight Watchers brand. I've used it in recipes and it works fine. The only store in my area that carries the Weight Watcher brand cream cheese is Kroger. I would prefer to use organic dairy products however organic has just as much sodium as regular.
Cottage cheese: Friendship brand has a "No salt added" cottage cheese that can be purchased at Harris Teeter and Fresh Market. Although it tastes very plain, it's fine mixed with fruit, mixed with tuna fish and even I've experimented with making a baked Ziti using this cottage cheese and Boars Head low sodium provolone cheese. Boars Head can be found at various grocery stores, they have several versions of low sodium cheeses, but which ones are available varies from place to place. I found the provolone at Harris Teeter. I will talk more about cheeses in a future post.
Sour cream: I have experimented with substituting plain Greek yogurt for sour cream and it works pretty good. They have a similar flavor and consistency, and Greek yogurt has less fat and 1/2 the salt of regular sour cream. Among Greek yogurts, the Oikos brand is the lowest in sodium for the plain and it tastes good.
Mayonnaise: The heart breaking fact is there is no low-sodium mayonnaise available. Compromise must be made. All name brands are similar in sodium counts. The light and fat free variations follow the formula mentioned above of higher and higher sodium counts. Spectrum makes a vegan eggless mayonnaise that is lower in salt than regular brands. Another alternative is to take 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise and mix with 1 tablespoon of greek yogurt to spread on your sandwich. This is lower in salt and fat and works. I've used this blend in larger quantities in my broccoli slaw recipe. No one knew and I was able to have a serving too.
Ketchup: Heinz has both No Salt and Reduced Sugar ketchup. The Reduced-Sugar one has the salt content of regular ketchup and the No.Salt has the sugar of regular ketchup, so a choice has to be made. I use the No-Salt sparingly and count the carbs. I've found both options at Kroger.
Mustard: Whole foods carries Westbrae Natural Stone-ground Mustard-No Salt Added. It has 0 sodium. It's not bad, actually. It's great on burgers, and I have also mixed a teaspoon of this to a tablespoon of Greek yogurt to make a nice sandwich spread.
Spice/Herb Blends: Be careful! Most spice blends have salt in them. Unless it says otherwise on the label, assume it's in there. The complete Mrs. Dash line is no salt and has lots of choices of blends Mrs. Dash can be found in every major grocery chain. McCormick's "Perfect Pinch" line has 5 Salt-Free versions that are pretty tasty. Although the McCormick brand can also be found at practically every grocery store, the Perfect Pinch line is relatively new so you may have to browse around to find it. Another good blend is Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning (Salt Free) All Purpose Blend. I've found it at Harris Teeter and Food Lion.
Bouillon and Broths: Bouillon cubes and soup starters are very, very high in sodium making it hard to easily create stews and soups and other recipes that use them. Thank goodness Herb Ox the maker of bouillon cubes also puts out a sodium free version in both beef and chicken flavors in a small box of 8 packets. At 0 sodium, gluten free and no MSG they make life a lot easier. Pacific Natural Foods has the lowest of the low sodium chicken, beef and vegetable low-sodium broths. They are gluten free and organic and are sold in cartons not cans. So are the low-sodium broths from Imagine Natural Creations. While not as low as the Pacific brand, they are still much lower than any of the canned low sodium broths. I have found both of these lines at Harris Teeter and Kroger.
Canned vegetables & beans: Del Monte has a line of No Salt Added vegetables that are very easy to find, and most of the major grocery chains carry them.
Hunts brand has No Salt Added canned tomatoes in sauce, whole tomatoes, paste, stewed and diced. Hunts also has diced tomatoes in a garlic and oregano no-salt version. Most of the major grocery chains carry their own store brand no-salt added vegetables and tomato products, what they have available varies chain to chain.
Whole Foods carries no salt canned black, kidney and pinto beans in their own brand called 365 Everyday Value.
More helpful products in a future post...