I love to cook, so how do I keep my sodium intake low?

A low-sodium diet is important for pulmonary hypertension patients

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by Mike Naple |

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While I take a fair amount of medication to manage my pulmonary hypertension (PH), sometimes the hardest pill to swallow is admitting when I fall short with my treatment plan.

Earlier this month, I was at a restaurant sharing a meal with an old friend I hadn’t seen since the COVID-19 pandemic started. While we had stayed in touch, there was still much to catch up on. In between courses of fried green tomatoes and watermelon and peanut salad, our conversation gravitated toward my health and how I’d been holding up in the past few years.

My friend asked what I considered to be the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make because of the disease. PH really packs a punch, so I could’ve answered in several ways. Perhaps I was influenced by the culinary setting, but I responded that the low-sodium diet was the hardest thing to consistently follow.

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A source of joy

Food is a passion and joy in my life. As a child, I spent countless hours in the kitchen watching my mom create delicious dishes steeped in our family’s Italian heritage. Today, I cook many of those same dishes in my own kitchen.

Food has the ability to bring us together, whether in celebration of a special occasion or as a show of support when a loved one is having a tough time. Cooking a meal for friends or family is one of my love languages, and I don’t think PH necessarily needs to extinguish that joy. But how do I speak my love language with a level of consistency that aligns with my treatment program to improve my quality of life?

Doctors regularly advise PH patients to limit the sodium in our diet and to monitor our fluid intake. Our hearts work overtime to pump blood to the lungs, and fluid retention caused by high sodium levels can cause edema. That can put a person with PH at a higher risk for heart failure.

Excess fluid in the body can disrupt daily life by causing swelling in the legs and feet, tightness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, and other PH-related symptoms.

My body tells me if I’ve eaten too many salty snacks and need to shift gears to avoid a flare-up that might require oxygen therapy.

The University of Michigan’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center recommends PH patients limit their daily intake of sodium to 2,000 milligrams. That’s the equivalent of less than a teaspoon of salt. It sounds like a Sisyphean task to me, even though I should know better.

There are many ways to limit your sodium intake, and one tip I’ve embraced over the years is to closely read nutrition information in grocery stores and at restaurants.

My partner and I purchase low-sodium black beans, reduced sodium chicken stock, and salt-free diced tomatoes. These pantry staples give me more control of salt content when I prepare meals at home.

Shifting habits with the seasons

Busy schedules can mean more takeout food, which is usually higher in sodium than a healthy meal cooked at home. I do my best to balance everything, but unfortunately, I lost my cooking edge over the summer. As we move through fall and into winter, I’m hoping to get it back.

I find it easier to cook at this time of year, particularly because I can turn on the oven. I love doing some batch cooking on weekends when it’s cold, or a quick veggie and protein sheet-pan dinner on a weeknight.

For those of you who also follow a low-sodium diet, what tips and tricks work for you? Please share in the comments below. You can also follow me on X (formerly Twitter): @mnaple.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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