Dietary restrictions like allergies can be a real downer for food-lovers forced to give up their favorite dishes. On the other hand, these "restrictions" can also open doors to exciting new lifestyles.
When food writer Jessica Goldman, alias "Sodium Girl," was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that rendered her kidneys unable to process her body's sodium levels, she did not despair. Rather she accepted the challenge of adapting to a salt-free diet and regularly posts her original low-to-no-sodium recipes on her blog. In the following Q&A, Goldman discusses keeping a positive attitude, her upcoming salt-free cookbook and turning her dietary restriction into a culinary adventure.
From reactions to your blog, it's obvious that your story has inspired a lot of people with similar conditions. How do you maintain such an uplifting, positive attitude in the face of a serious and notoriously scary disease?
I think from the beginning I knew that medicine would only work well if I created an environment, internally and externally, that was generally positive. When I was in the hospital initially, we had a "no cry" rule which was less about not letting out emotions and more about seeing this as an experience. It was a journey, a constant learning curve and something I had to find humor and value in. Or else, the fears, the anxieties and the sadness would inhibit my ability to survive.
Of course, I have a lot of days when I'm angry, sad, tired or fed up. A lot of them. And I have a built a community of doctors, family members and friends who understand and know how to pick me up. These days are equally important to all the smiles and salt-free sushi. We all need these days, whether you have a disease or not. But after I've had a good melt down, I always move on, put things into perspective, remind myself about what I do have to be grateful for and tie my apron back on. Because if I want to live, I have to choose to live. And being determined to get past the scary parts is an essential piece of that recipe.
Dietary restrictions can dominate a person's life. Do you have any words for others who have been forced to give up the foods they love because of a medical condition?
Everyone has challenges. And the deeper I get into this field, the more I realize how common I really am. Whether it is allergies or disabilities or simply being a parent, we as people tend to have a lot of issues we have to constantly be juggling. So I think that the first thing one needs to do is remember is that they are not alone.
Then, switch the vocab. Get rid of words like "give up," "lost," "limited," and "restricted." Because when one describes a diet that way, that's exactly how he or she will feel. Swap them with "inspired," "motivated," and "empowered" and then that patient will start realizing that his or her new, special diet is actually going to allow them to taste more, try more and do more. Especially because they'll be taking health care into their own hands. And they are lucky to have an opportunity to control something in a world of illnesses that can often feels uncontrollable.
As you mention on your blog, salt is one of the more ubiquitous ingredients. What challenges did you have to overcome to find restaurants offering low-sodium dishes and salt replacements in your own cooking?
In order to eat out, you have to know how to eat in. When you learn how to cook, you suddenly realize where salt is added during the entire cooking process not just at the end when the plate gets shuffled out the kitchen. It took me a few years to understand that vegetables are often blanched in salted water early in the morning. Or that words like cured, smoked, brined and breaded mean the protein has seen a good amount of sodium.
With this knowledge, I now know what to ask for from the restaurant staff and which items on the menu are either safe or easily salt-freed. I also learned to not only tell people about what I cannot eat, but much like my answer for number two, what I can eat. Again, this positive spin completely changed the kind of food I was being served because the kitchen felt less restricted and suddenly had the permission and information to be creative.
Your new low-sodium cookbook is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2012. What motivated you to write a cookbook?
Well, honestly, I had no intention of writing a cookbook, believe it or not! It was originally a lifestyle guide, but much to my own shock, the publishers wanted a cookbook, which I had thought that would be a difficult sell. Because, until hopefully now, salt-free is not considered sexy. There are a few wonderful cookbooks out there, without which I would have never dared to start cooking on my own. But these were all in black and white, with no color, no excitement and no spirit. And instead of defying the misconception of low-sodium food (that it is bland and boring), they only seemed to further prove it. To no fault of the authors.
So this cookbook is about undoing the notion that low-sodium food is second class. With full color photography and salt-defying recipes, I hope to prove that low-sodium food can be just as crave-worthy as its salty counterparts. That it will be as enticing as all the other books on the shelves. And, hopefully it will move more people to actually take on little shifts in their lifestyles so that they can greatly impact their health.
Photo by Jessica Goldman