Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Please (Don’t) Pass the Salt

Written by Amisha Upadhyaya
MiltonGirl.jpgJessica Goldman’s blog, Sodium Girl, is no ordinary cooking blog. It is a testament to her courage in facing a life-threatening disease.Through it, she shows others how fun and easy living with no sodium can be.

Goldman was part of an informal food blogging group I was loosely involved with as a blogger and lover of food. When I heard her story, I was inspired and amazed at how much she had gone through, and at her ability to live so fully without a touch of sodium. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Goldman about her “story,” as she refers to it on her blog.
Illustrations by Laura Knetzger
 
Jessica Goldman’s blog, Sodium Girl, is no ordinary cooking blog. It is a testament to her courage in facing a life-threatening disease. Through it, she shows others how fun and easy living with no sodium can be.

Goldman was part of an informal food blogging group I was loosely involved with as a blogger and lover of food. When I heard her story, I was inspired and amazed by how much she had gone through, and at her ability to live so fully without a touch of sodium. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Goldman about her story.
 
Seven years ago, Goldman was an energetic, vivacious dancer as well as a junior in college who had just returned from studying abroad. One day, with no warning, she gained forty pounds of water. She was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with lupus nephritis. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body begins attacking itself. Although both Goldman’s mother and grandmother have lupus, the exact cause of the disease is unknown.

The doctors warned Goldman not to rush to the Internet with questions since it was possible the information she read would not apply to her and, in turn, unnecessarily scare her. What if she had the best-case scenario? It turned out she had the worst case. The lupus was in her kidneys and her brain. Goldman suffered kidney failure and endured seizure after seizure. Her bone marrow stopped working. She was in the hospital for three months undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy.

“The silver lining”—Goldman’s words that reflect her immense optimism—was that it’s rare for lupus to attack two organs simultaneously, so the doctors paid greater attention to her as a case study. She went on an emergency kidney transplant list. While waiting for the transplant, Goldman rushed to the Internet and began her own research to “take charge of her healthcare.” That’s her MO. She had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of thirteen, which had inspired her to look into alternative healing and diets. She was already well versed in the limitations of Western medicine.

The brochures the hospital had given her on how to control lupus were inadequate. On her own, Goldman not only cut her sodium intake, but she gradually eliminated sodium from her diet, as well. Kidneys filter out waste and extra water from the blood. Sodium is a waste and its buildup can make blood toxic. By lowering sodium intake, the kidneys do less work.

As her diet changed, so did Goldman’s health and life. Her body was getting stronger. She took less medicine. She went off dialysis. Months before the transplant was to have happened, she went off the transplant list. She no longer needed it. And she started dancing again.

She began her blog because of the lack of information out there. The information that was easily accessible, like the hospital brochures she had been given, was hopelessly incomplete, overly clinical (making it hard to understand and follow), or negative.

Three years ago, she finally got into the groove of a sodium-free lifestyle. She found ways to make it easy on herself for when she doesn’t have much energy; she knows where to shop, what to grab on the go, how to travel, how to eat out, and how to dine with friends. Her favorite dish is shabu-shabu, Japanese hot pot. It’s a broth with uncooked vegetables and meats. Goldman simply asks for hot water instead of broth when she’s out. Her other favorites include sashimi and steamed rice.

To most people, a no sodium diet sounds tasteless and impossible to do. Not so. “The more you understand how food is prepared, the more you can understand this lifestyle,” Goldman emphasizes.

A sodium-free lifestyle has to do with knowing how to cook, i.e. boiling vegetables instead of blanching them in salt water. Rather than what she can’t have, she concentrates on all that she can have: herbs, most spices (not generics or blends), citrus, garlic, mascarpone, crème fraîche, salt-free potato chips, frittatas. She looks at recipes and experiments to see how dishes can be made without salt and still be tasty.

Goldman adds, “People don’t [even] realize how much sodium is already in most foods.” Dark leafy greens like spinach retain the minerals from the ground. Shellfish have almost one thousand milligrams of sodium. Three ounces of red meat has ninety milligrams. None of these need extra salt—we’re just used to it.

In addition, many salt substitutes exist. For instance, radishes add a peppery taste that’s similar to salt. Goldman’s blog is filled with discoveries that allow people to never sacrifice taste. “The biggest discovery is how to eat out. Most people think you can't eat low sodium beyond your kitchen.” It’s a challenge, but Goldman has found a way around it that’s given her an active, urban social life.

Many times, she will call a restaurant in advance or look up the menu online if she knows where she will be dining. Rather than saying that she “can’t have salt,” she says, “my kidneys failed.” The fear factor. This hasn’t scared a chef yet though, she adds. Instead, chefs are excited about the challenge.

In March 2009, Goldman started her blog and filled it with salt-free recipes, tips on how to adjust to a no-sodium lifestyle, and nutrition facts. The response was overwhelming. By November, Goldman left a full-time job to work exclusively on the blog and become a freelance writer.

Goldman takes her service to her readers seriously; for instance, taking the time to offer guidance to a reader who suffers from migraines (forcing her to be low sodium and dairy free) and desperately misses her mom’s enchiladas. Goldman understands that food is not just for health and energy; it’s an emotional attachment. That’s the hardest part of changing one’s diet.

As Goldman’s life proves, a diagnosis does not have to mean the end of a fun, tasty life. Just ask her!

Recipes


Matzo Meatballs
Ingredients:
• 1/2 diced red onion
• 5 garlic cloves, pressed with garlic press
• 1 ½ cups of matzo ball meal; no salt-added breadcrumbs
• 1 cup half and half
• 1 pound ground pork (or half ground pork, half ground beef)
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1/2 cup freshly chopped herbs—rosemary, basil, and/or parsley
• canola oil

Directions:
1. In a large, nonstick pan, heat a bit of canola oil (1 teaspoon) and sauté the garlic and onions for 5-10 minutes.

2. Take pan off heat and transfer the now translucent-ish onion and garlic mixture to a medium-sized bowl.

3. In a smaller bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the cream and allow them to soak for 5 minutes.

4. Add the ground meat, eggs, herbs, spices, and the soaked breadcrumbs to the onion-garlic mixture. Gently fold the ingredients together until all parts have been well distributed. You may find that the breadcrumbs clump into little balls, so while you want to avoid over-mixing the “meat batter,” feel free to break up the clumps by rubbing them between your fingers.

5. Reheat nonstick pan with a few more tablespoons of canola oil. Shape meat into balls that are a little smaller than golf balls and add them to the sizzling oil. Do not overcrowd the pan, and allow the meatballs to brown for 5 minutes on each side. I found that it is easiest to use a fish spatula to turn and remove the meatballs from the pan without breaking them apart.

6. Place browned meatballs on a cookie sheet, and repeat with another batch until all the meat is gone.

7. To finish the meatballs, you have two choices—you can add them to the sauce, where they will continue to simmer for another 20 minutes. Or, if you are going sauceless, throw them in the oven for 10 minutes on 350 degrees so that they cook through. Then, enjoy.

Lentils With Spinach
Ingredients:
• 1 cup red split lentils, well rinsed and drained
• 1 pound fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped (remember to squeeze out water before chopping)
• 2 tablespoons plain soy yogurt (I use WholeSoy)
• 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
• 3 crushed garlic cloves (use a garlic press or a Microplane grater)
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
•  1 teaspoon ground ginger
•  2 1/2 cups of water

Directions:
1. Place lentils, onion, and garlic in a pot with the water and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the chili powder and ground ginger. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils break down and have a soupy consistency.

3. Right before serving, boil rapidly to evaporate any excess water so the lentil concoction (also known as dal) is fairly thick.

4. Add the finely chopped spinach and stir. Continue to cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes.

5. Stir in the yogurt and simmer gently for 4 more minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

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