Recipes and advice for tastier low-sodium eating
We all know we should eat well, but it’s not always easy – or enjoyable. Terms like “low-sodium” or “healthy” are often equated with “bland” or “boring”. But the truth is, we can up the flavor and fulfillment with a few small improvements.
How to add flavor
Low- or no-sodium dining doesn’t have to be dull. Try these two easy tactics for more flavorful food:
1. Boost flavor with seasonings. “Use high-quality herbs and spices, and as much fresh as you possibly can because they are much more flavorful and full of antioxidants,” notes Cynthia Gray, co-owner of Mia's Kitchen in Suffern, NY. Do season carefully, though. “A bowl of pasta would require stronger flavors than a sweet potato, which would only require subtle flavors. And some spices, like chili pepper, can overwhelm the whole dish while others, like basil, are very mild and can be used in abundance,” she adds. Garlic (powder, granules or fresh), cumin and onion powder add a savory element to dishes without having to add much salt.
2. Add interest with infused olive oils and vinegars. “Infused oils are a great way to add flavor to salads, veggies, meat and dressings without any extra work,” notes Dallas-based Registered Dietitian Alicia Galvin, MEd, RD, LD, IFNCP. Popular infusions include rosemary, garlic, jalapeno and basil, and more options are available at your local gourmet grocery and online. These items are also easy to make at home.
Tips for healthier eating
Lowering sodium is only one aspect of healthier eating. Here are four tips for maintaining nutritional health:
1. Manage your portions. “I see people over-serving their carbohydrate portions and under-serving their vegetable portions,” Galvin notes. “Non-starchy veggies like broccoli, cabbage, green beans, peppers, cauliflower and zucchini should take up about half your plate or bowl. Carbohydrates like rice, breads, quinoa and white potatoes should be about a 1/4 of your plate or bowl. Meat servings should be about the size of the palm of your hand or 3 to 5 ounces.”
2. Know your fats. Fat isn’t the enemy, but some fats aren’t very healthy. Avoid trans fats as much as possible, focusing instead on healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and nuts. The American Heart Association’s recommendations include: olive, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils.
3. Eat enough protein. “As we age, our protein needs actually increase due to the degeneration of muscle that naturally happens,” Galvin says. “Ideally eating about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight -- take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to get kg -- is what is needed, so it is important to include protein at every meal.” Don’t eat meat? Vegan or vegetarian sources of protein include seitan, tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, quinoa and hempseed.
4. Check off packaged and prepared foods. Choose packaged items that have 5 or fewer ingredients you recognize. This indicates your choices are minimally processed and ensures you’re not getting a bunch of additives, chemicals and artificial ingredients. Choose meats that are grilled or baked rather than fried. Ask for veggies as a side instead of mashed potatoes, bread or fried foods.
“Eating well does not need to be complicated,” Galvin asserts. “There are plenty of easy recipes that are nutrient-dense, so don’t feel like you have to rely on packaged convenience foods. The secret to aging gracefully starts with what is on the end of your fork.”
Recipes for healthier eating
Check out these healthy and flavorful recipes suitable for those on a low-sodium diet and delicious for everyone. Jump to a section that interests you!
- Cauliflower Steak
- Fried Rice with Shrimp and Peas
- Tomato Basil Frittata
- Taco Cups (traditional, vegetarian or vegan)
- Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash
- Speedy Frozen Fruit Sorbet
From Cynthia Gray and Michael Narciso, owners of Mia's Kitchen in Suffern, NY
1 head cauliflower
4 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
5 plum tomatoes
1/2 c white wine
1 c water
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Cut cauliflower lengthwise into thin, flat steaks.
Heat the olive oil and garlic on medium heat. Add the cauliflower steaks, sprinkle with salt and pepper and brown on both sides. When browned, set steaks aside.
In the same pan throw the tomatoes, white wine and water. Cook for 5 minutes on low heat.
Put the cauliflower steaks on a plate and cover with a generous portion of the tomato mixture. Top with parmesan cheese and serve.
Fried Rice with Shrimp and Peas
From Nancie McDermott, author of Southern Soups & Stews: More than 75 Recipes from Gumbo and Burgoo to Étouffée and Fricassee
Shrimp and peas give gorgeous color to this tasty version of fried rice. In Thailand, this dish would have fish sauce, but that's not necessary. With onion, garlic, shrimp and cilantro, there are flavors going on without requiring salt. Take it to a potluck, or enjoy it as a one-dish supper. For a vegetarian dish, omit shrimp and add sautéed mushrooms or chunks of firm tofu or roasted butternut squash.
4 c cooked long-grain rice, preferably chilled*
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 c chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped garlic
Salt, to taste (I would use 1 tsp.)
8 oz medium shrimp, peeled and deveined **
1 cup frozen tiny peas
2 tbsp finely chopped green onion
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Crumble up the rice, so that it breaks up into individual grains for easy stir-frying.
Heat a wok or a large, deep skillet over high heat until very hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, garlic, and salt, and toss until shiny and fragrant.
Scatter in the shrimp, spreading them out into a single layer. Cook, undisturbed, until most of the shrimp have turned pink around the edges, about 1 minute. Add the peas and toss well.
Add the rice and toss well. Cook, tossing often, until the shrimp are cooked through and the rice is hot and tender, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Add the green onion and cilantro and toss to mix them in. Transfer to a serving plate, and serve hot or warm.
*You can buy rice at your favorite Chinese restaurant, bring it home, transfer tit to a covered container, and chill or freeze it until time to cook.
**If using leftover cooked shrimp, give them a quick toss in the hot pan before adding the rice, instead of allowing time for the shrimp to cook. Add curry powder for a salt-free boost of flavor without adding salt.
Tomato Basil Frittata
From Registered Dietitian Alicia Galvin, MEd, RD, LD, IFNCP, Dallas, TX
Eggs don’t actually have as much of an effect on cholesterol. New data shows they can be enjoyed even if cholesterol is high.
1 tsp dried oregano
3 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz baby spinach leaves
10 large eggs, whisked
Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 small ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
Fresh basil leaves to taste (for garnishing)
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Whisk the eggs, oregano, and mustard in a bowl. Set aside.
Heat the coconut oil in an oven-proof skillet over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden (about 5 to 6 minutes).
Add the spinach to the skillet, and cook for another minute or two or until wilted.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Cook until it hardens just a little, then place the tomatoes on top. Continue cooking until the frittata is set around the edges but still runny in the center.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the frittata turns to a nice golden color.
Sprinkle basil leaves on top and serve.
Taco Cups (traditional, vegetarian or vegan)
From Chef Hadassah R. Patterson, owner, Triangle Gluten-Free LLC, Durham, NC
The wonderful thing about these is that they are portion controlled, so they work well regardless of dietary need. They are whole-grain corn and less disturbing to blood sugar, but balanced with healthy proteins, fiber and vegetables. There is much room to adjust, play with, and experiment with various fillings - just like a taco! If one or more ingredients sparks a sensitivity, just change out for a favorite veggie.
Canola or olive oil
2 c ground white, yellow, or blue corn masa*
1 tsp salt (optional)
1 to 1-1/4 c water
*for Paleo, substitute almond flour or yucca meal and just enough water to form a tight paste
Preheat oven to 350.
Line a standard 12-muffin tin with well-oiled baking cups.
Mix the masa, salt, and water in a medium bowl - adding 1/2 cup of water at a time. Add just enough water to form moist balls, but not make the dough too sticky. It should wipe the sides of the bowl a bit clean. Let it sit for 30 minutes to absorb the moisture and should form a firm ball easily in your hands.
Scoop batter into the oiled cups and press the middle of each to bring the dough up the sides of the muffin cups. You can use your hands, the scoop, or oiled plastic wrap and another muffin tin on top.
Bake the empty taco cups at 350F for 15-20 minutes until the they are set but not browned. They should be firm and hold their shape when done. Remove from oven and set aside.
1 c cooked black or red beans, thoroughly drained
1/2 c each corn, diced red pepper and diced yellow onion
1tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ancho chili powder (mild) or chipotle powder (if you tolerate heat)
1/2 c homemade or bottled savory BBQ sauce. (Lower sugar versions are usually labelled 'mesquite')
Cilantro and/or green onion for garnish
1 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 pound ground meat of choice, cooked and seasoned to taste, drained (optional)
1/2 c preferred shredded cheese (optional), divided
Hot sauce for serving (optional)
Turn the oven up to 375F.
Mix beans with chopped onion and red peppers. Add corn kernels, or coarsely blend a bit with the seasonings to act as a mild 'glue' that holds the ingredients together. Add garlic, paprika and chili powder.
If using, cook off ground meat until done and season to taste. Drain any oil or additional liquid and add to bowl.
Add most of the cheese, if using, and the sauce and stir until combined. Spoon into the parbaked taco cups. (It's ok if you have filling left over! Label and freeze it for later or try another round.)
Bake for 15-18 minutes until the filling is set. Garnish with remaining cheese, cilantro and/or green onion. Serve hot.
Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash
From Alicia Galvin
16 oz brussels sprouts, halved
16 oz butternut squash, pre-chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ tsp Kosher salt
6 sprigs fresh thyme
Fresh black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a large sheet pan with oil.
In a large bowl combine the brussels sprouts, butternut, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir until coated. Arrange onto the baking sheet in a single layer.
Bake 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are roasted and tender.
Speedy Frozen Fruit Sorbet
From Nancie McDermott, author of Fruit: A Savor the South® Cookbook
Frozen fruit is the secret of this quick treat. Frozen mangoes are particularly good, but you can also use frozen peaches, cherries or strawberries with great results. Check the freezer case at your supermarket to see what your options are.
1 pound frozen* mangoes, peaches, strawberries or cherries
1/4 c sugar, or as needed
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or as needed
1 can (12 oz) ginger ale or lemon-lime soda
If the fruit is very hard, let it thaw slightly before processing, about 5 minutes. Place the still-frozen fruit in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until finely chopped.
Stop the machine and add the sugar and lemon juice. Process again, adding the soda through the feed tube. Continue processing until creamy and well combined. Do not over-process or the sorbet will melt.
Taste and adjust with the lemon juice and sugar. Quickly transfer to an airtight container and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. If it freezes longer, you may need to break the sorbet into chunks and process again until soft enough to eat.
*If you have an abundance of ripe mangoes, strawberries, or peaches, simply peel, stem, and chop 1 pound’s worth into big chunks and freeze them first. Then use as directed in the recipe. Peaches and strawberries will need more sugar and lemon juice than mangoes. Add a tablespoon or two of each until you have a balance you like, up to a total of 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons lemon juice.
3 heart-healthy winter recipes
Healthy swaps for burgers, dogs and s'mores
Top 3 resources for senior home cooks