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FoodFit Answers Your Toughest
Nutrition Questions


Eileen Peterson, MPH, RD
Specialty: Cardiac Health

Q. Can you recommend the best way to cook and monitor intake for a low sodium (2 Grams) diet? My doctor just put me on a no salt diet. Does salt just add flavor or does it interact chemically in a recipe? Can I just leave out the salt in my favorite recipes?

A. Since sodium is found naturally in foods, it is impossible to eat and be on a "no salt" diet, what your physician probably meant was a "no added" salt diet and 2 grams of sodium is often the amount recommended for those trying to control such chronic diseases as high blood pressure (hypertension), congestive heart failure and/or kidney problems. Two grams of sodium is equal to 2000 mg. This is less than 1 teaspoon of salt, which is equal to 2400 mg.

By eliminating the amount of salt used at the table (remove the shaker from the table to avoid temptation!) and limiting what's used during the cooking process, you can remove about 40 percent of the excess sodium that you eat in a typical day. As important is cutting back on processed foods, especially fast food. You can eliminate about another 40-50 percent of the average daily sodium intake by doing this. Sodium is abundant in highly processed, canned and frozen foods because it acts as a preservative and decreases a product's cooking time (i.e. "instant" rice, oatmeal, and sauces).

Salt is also used for flavor and contributes to the chemical structure of a food by enhancing the texture and denseness of some baked foods, for example. Sodium can be cut in half in most all recipes, and even further in dishes like homemade soups, casseroles and sauces, where the sodium isn't as important for the chemical structure.

If you're limiting salt and salty products, try salt-free herb blends or dried or preferably fresh herbs and spices. You may be surprised how quickly one can lose the taste for salty foods. Other lower sodium flavor enhancements include citrus juice, pepper, garlic, onions and chili pepper. Also read labels when grocery shopping for lower sodium products and seek out those menu symbols for dishes prepared with less salt when eating out.

Q. I have high triglycerides and cholesterol. What kind of oils should I be looking for to cook with and use in salads. What amount should I use for cooking?

A. You are right to be concerned about the types of oil you use. The added fats in one's diet can elevate triglycerides, cholesterol, and the "bad" cholesterol, LDL, while lowering the "good", HDL cholesterol. Excess consumption of fat contributes to another risk factor—excess body weight.

Stay away from saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature and can do the double whammy of raising cholesterol levels, while also elevating the risk of a heart attack or stroke. These saturated fats include butter, lard and even tropical oils, like coconut and palm oil.

The unsaturated oils to choose are made from vegetables, such as the monounsaturated oils, olive and canola. The polyunsaturated oils like corn, sunflower and soybean are better than the saturated oils, but not as healthy as either olive or canola.

All oils are 100 percent fat, however, so no matter what type you're using, it's still best to limit the amount used whenever possible. Invest in an oil pump spray for just lightly coating a pan when cooking. Also, use more low fat cooking liquids such as juices, vinegars, wine (the alcohol cooks out), broths, etc, in place of excess oils. This will significantly cut down on both calories and fat, while still adding flavor while cooking and in salad dressings/sauces.

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Eileen Peterson, MPH, RD

Eileen Peterson MPH, RD, earned her BS in Dietetics at the University of California at Davis. She then completed her dietetic internship and received her Masters of Public Health at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, LA.

Eileen was the lead dietitian for the cardiology outpatient services at UC Davis Medical Center for five years. She currently owns her own consulting business and is a consulting dietitian and instructor for various medical groups including UC Davis Medial Center, Kaiser Permanente and Hill Physicians Medical Groups.

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