Before making the change to a low-sodium diet, Jess Goldman Foung, the author of the popular blog Sodium Girl, was like a lot of Americans who ate fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, not nearly enough servings of vegetables and rarely strayed from her comfort zone of basic food groups.
With a degree from Stanford and a budding career as a Development Manager, Jess was becoming an expert at fundraising and grant writing, and loved it. Her body, however, did not.
“The autoimmune disease, Lupus, was aggresively attacking my brain and my kidneys and after three months of chemo, dialysis, and amazing medical care, I survived. My kidneys didn’t, ” she says.
After researching and educating herself, Jess realized she needed to take her health into her own hands, and she started with nutrition. “I swore I would do what I could with my own two hands to help stay strong and live a full life and that meant going on a strict low-sodium diet. But I also happened to be an extremely stubborn person, who refused to eat dull food or miss out on anything life had to offer. So that meant rewriting the low-sodium rules.”
“After a tough-love session with my mother, who asked, ‘Do you want to live five years or fifty years?” I realized I needed to quit my job and find a career that let me take care of myself,” Jess acknowledges. “It wasn’t until a fateful day when I watched two movies back-to-back —Julie and Julia and then Food, Inc.—that I realized what I should do: 1) blog and 2) write about the power of food.”
And that she does with the release of her new book Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook.
Jess and her husband Alejandro
Jess hasn’t let the banished flavor of salt restrain her love of cooking and creating. It’s simply defined it. Through her tips, tricks and recipes, Jess has taken control of her own health and now is helping others do the same. Whole foods play a major part of her diet, with sodium-packed, pre-packaged foods getting the heave-ho.
As Jess states in her new book, according to Malcolm Gladwell‘s calculations it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert in any given field. Given those stats and the fact that Jess has logged more than eight years and over 70,000 hours creating, eating and enjoying a low-sodium diet, she certainly could be called an expert when it comes to de-saltifying your meals but keeping them full of flavor.
Flavor. And personality. Jess has plenty of both.
So what do you eat when you’re cooking the low-sodium way? Jess’s favorites include some of the obvious like fruit, baked potatoes, yogurt and steamed rice. But she also sheds light on great low-sodium options like Frosted Mini-Wheats, baby food (!) and canned fish that are all within the salt-free eating options.
Instead of bottled teriyaki sauce try a combination of molasses and rice wine vinegar and instead of using high-sodium hard cheeses for white sauce, try blended cauliflower, a low-sodium ricotta or coconut milk.
And her best salt substitutes? Try salt-free garlic powder, a squeeze of citrus, and chili pepper all help enhance and brighten the other ingredients, just like salt.
Jess challenged a few bloggers to recreate a recipe from their blog that is heavy in salt, converting it to a low-sodium option. I gladly adorned my Wonder Woman bracelets and accepted her challenge.
I didn’t have to think twice of which recipe that would be part of Sodium Girl’s for FoodieCrush: Truffle Bacon Popcorn: a salt lover’s dream and healthy artery’s nightmare. So how did I make it over? Here’s the nuts and bolts.
The basic premise of air-popped popcorn stayed. But out went the sodium laden bacon and farewell to my tastey truffle salt. Hello to sweet brown sugar and hot mama spices to replace the salt and kick up the flavor. Sweet and spicy made a great substitution including Jess’s suggestions of chili pepper, plus dry roasted, unsalted Marcona almonds offered an added bit of protein and heartiness to the snack.
Sweet and Spicy Popcorn with Marcona Almonds
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 cups air popped popcorn
- ¾ cup dry roasted , unsalted Marcona almonds
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Mix brown sugar, chili powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- Combine popcorn and almonds in a large bowl. Place butter in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and then microwave for another 30 seconds.
- Pour over popcorn and almonds, stir and then toss with half of brown sugar mixture. Stir, taste and add more of the brown sugar mixture to taste.
I asked Jess which recipes from the book were some of her favorites? “The salt-free pickle recipes (there are several ideas for everything from cumin scented carrots to kimchi) and my Salt-Free Bloody Marys. They’re my favorites because I think they tend to make converts out of the most skeptical people.”
Congrats on your book debut Jess, and thanks for being our foodie crush.
1. Describe your blog in 3 words:
Colorful, playful, informative. (Hopefully that whole salt-free thing is just an afterthought.)
2. If you could be one food blogger other than yourself, who would you be?
Not to be creepy, but I just adore Joy the Baker. Of course, because she has such a killer sense of humor and a killer sense of style. I mean, she wears blazers. But I think I’d be Joy for a day mostly because that girl can bake. And I, my friend, am not a baker. As I say in the book, I’m an adder, a thrower-inner, an improviser. Not a measurer or ingredient-reader. Which is why all my baking projects usually end up in the compost or sprinkled on ice cream. So I would be her because then I’d have beautiful cookies and cakes to eat all the time.
3. Which 3 blogs do you follow/are obsessed with/can’t live a day without?
Joy the Baker (see number 2), 101 Cookbooks because when I don’t know what to cook for dinner I look to her recipe log, and Cheryl Sternman Rule who makes me laugh out loud all the time. There’s also Hogwash by Jess Thomson who’s my doppleganger in life, so I can’t leave her out. And of course you, how can I not write you! Oh, and Spoon Fork Bacon. I love those girls and their website is just so beautiful. Clearly I’m bad at this whole three blog thing.
4. What is the one kitchen tool you could never give up?
The rice cooker. It’s my sous chef on nights when I’m starving and I don’t have the energy to cook. I throw some green onion, shiitake, and rice in that ‘ol thing and let it rip. Saute some veggies while I wait, pour on the rice wine vinegar when it’s done, and sit down and eat. If you have no other room for anything else, this is your essential item. And it is really coming in handy now with this whole baby deal. You barely even need one hand to set it up. And when it comes to low-sodium food (and babies), quick meals, quick clean up, and convenience can’t be beat.
5. What dish are you obsessed with mastering that you just can’t get quite right?
Bacon. It’s pretty much the only salty food I haven’t been able to remix and remaster. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried. And it did not end up well. But with all those molecular gastronomists in the world, I have a feeling I might be able to make some sort of salt-free replica at some point!
6. What did you have for dinner last night?
Curried butternut squash and chickpea stew with cumin and smoked paprika spiced chicken thighs. Did I mention I’m having salt-free peking duck and plum sauce tonight?
7. What’s one secret talent outside of the kitchen nobody knows about you?
Um, I love to dance. Like, dance when there’s no music. Especially when there’s lots of people around. And sometimes, I even have tap shoes in my purse, just in case.
8. You’re happiest when cooking/eating:
Jook. It is my absolute comfort food and the perfect way to use up leftover chicken parts (if you buy whole birds). I’d eat it morning, noon, and night. It contains luscious shiitake mushrooms, plump rice full of rich chicken broth, and steaming savory smells. I love putting in yuba skins (tofu), green onion, and fried garlic. Confession: sometimes I eat so much, I get the meat sweats.
9. You share in your new book tons of tips on how to recreate favorite recipes the salt-free way. What are the three easiest ways to incorporate salt-free alternatives into family meals?
First, remember that whole foods contain their own natural flavors: raw radishes are peppery, mushrooms contain natural umami, beets and celery contain a high amount of natural sodium. Use them to boost the flavor in your meals.
Second, roasting, grilling, and reducing can add and enhance a lot of flavor to your food. So remember to see your oven, grill, and slow-cooker as flavor-enhancers as well.
And finally, EXPLORE! The more you try unfamiliar ingredients, meats, spices, and cuisines, the more surprised your palate will be and the less it will miss the salt.
10. The one secret ingredient to your success is:
Seeing obstacles and challenges as motivators. The best advice I got when I was in fundraising was that every no was just a 15% yes, and with charm, patience, and perseverance you could easily change things around. I’ve applied that to everything in my life, from Lupus to making salt-free pigs in a blanket. And so far, it’s serving me pretty well.
Thanks for reading and please keep in touch. Subscribe to FoodieCrush and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and check out FoodieCrush magazine.
Really i appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge. The topic here i found was really effective to the topic which i was researching for a long time.
The Blender Girl
Thankyou for this beautiful post and interview celebrating Jess. She is such a shining light in the world – so kind, gentle, humble, fun, and of course, talented. I have a copy of her fabulous book and LOVE it. There are so many wonderful ideas in there. Just a wealth of knowledge that is so valuable. I made your sweet and spicy popcorn yesterday and it was delicious! So, thanks for that too. Your website is just gorgeous.
Katie @ Mom's Kitchen Handbook
Love knowing about what sounds like a terrific new book. As a registered dietitian, I’m always looking for resources on the cooking front. Thus far few books featuring low-sodium recipes sound as inspired as this one. Thanks for sharing!
love this idea
Welp – just found about nine new blogs to follow and adore.
Thanks for the inspiring story :)
I am always looking for new ways to get healthy and cook better going to try this popcorn :)
Loretta | A Finn In The Kitchen
I never really intentionally make things low salt, but I do use sea salt and try to use other things for developing more interesting flavors.
I cut back on salt a long time ago. I was never one for a lot of salt anyway, but high blood pressure pretty well eliminated it. I do have an abundance of spices and herbs. I scour recipe for different ones and how to use them. Once I locate a new one (or one I haven’t heard of, I try to find a local market that might carry it, look for seeds to grow it or hit the web to buy it. It’s always fun and exciting to locate different ones and give them a try.
What an inspiring story. Thanks for featuring Jess. I can’t get over how many challenges she had to endure but bounced back and landed on her feet, plus sharing these salt-free, healthy ways with us.
Thanks for the giveaway, I use lots of garlic and onion for flavor.
I’m often surprised how unbridled we tend to use salt in our diet. I usually try to keep salt low in my recipes and to add more flavor by adding herbs and foreign spices. your blog helps me being creative. thanks for that!
I have tossed most of my salt intake out a long time ago. As long as I have lemon pepper, I can do without just about any other spice (except maybe Hungarian paprika). However, I do have a naughty spot for sweets. Working on that. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely creations.
So lucky to have found this blog. I started eating healthier just over two months ago and have learned so much since then. I’ve been tracking my nutrition on CRON-O-Meter and was surprised at how much sodium I was getting (even with trying to eat healthy). Hopefully, I will be able to find ways to get my sodium numbers in line with the others through reading this blog daily. Thanks so much !!
What a great post! I’ve been wanting to cut down on sodium (I’m kind of a salt-a-holic) and am happy to have found a new blogger to get inspired by. That popcorn looks delicious! Gotta love the sweet-n-spicy. Thanks!
I can’t wait to try the recipes in this cookbook!
meg jones wall
great post, top to bottom. i am a certified salt-o-holic and had no idea how over the daily amounts i am, sometimes in single meals. great introduction to some other food blogs, and amazing giveaway – i can’t afford a vitamix on my own, but have lusted after them for years, so i’m keeping my fingers crossed :) thanks!
Loving this popcorn recipe! I’ve been air-popping popcorn for a week now and always looking for new toppings :)
Love the low-sodium ideas!
I opened a Twitter account just to have more chances at winning… fingers crossed!
Denise | TLT
I don’t only love your version of sweet &spicy popcorn (need to try that!), but am also touched by this interview with Jessica. I always love to read the interviews on foodiecrush (it’s so nice to get a peek behind the blogs) and find it very inspirational to read this story and Jessica’s outlook on food and life. Thanks for sharing this Heidi!
I loved reading the interview! Less sodium is never a bad thing and this cookbook looks like a fabulous starting point. Thanks for the chance to win!
Nice! Thanks for the chance to win.
I am a gluten-free vegan & I am always looking for ways to eat more healthfully (I too have an autoimmune disease) . Eliminating salt from my diet whenever possible is another way I try to be healthy. I currently use Himalayian sea salt (minimally) but I also cook with herbs, spices, & use flavored balsamic vinegars. The Vitamix is the Maserati of blenders & is praised & revered in the vegan world, but alas, it is way out of my price range. I would jump for joy if I could win a Vitamix. I would also be interested in reading your cookbook to learn of ways to sub out salt in my recipes.
Loved the post, I actually recently started to use more salt lately rather than less, so this post was a nice reminder of better ways to use and not use salt. Thanks!
This is an awesome giveaway! Thanks for the chance to win!
what an amazing find! thank you!
Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes
I love me some smoked paprika as a spice. I put it on almost everything every night I make dinner. Love alternatives to salt. What a great concept and role model for the cookbook!
Sounds delicious. and yes, I’m happy to read this blog and get ideas on new ways to de-salt my food.
I use garlic cloves for everything now. I just loving mincing fresh garlic. And I’m starting to add Orange Juice to things, as well, such as Mashed Sweet Potatoes and even Stir Frys.
This sounds like it would be a great read and informative-
Looks like a great cookbook, would like to win that. My husband has some high blood pressure issues, and we use as little salt as possible. I cook a lot of spicy things that he likes with peppers and herbs, but I would really like some more ideas on reduced salt or salt free dishes.Thanks.
This book sounds like an amazing resource for so many people… off to share with my friends!
Liz @ The Lemon Bowl
Wow thank you for introducing me to this new blog! I love her philosophy and mission. Your popcorn also sounds incredible. Yum!
Averie @ Averie Cooks
What an awesome book, concept, and interview. I personally am really conscious of my salt intake and my husband has to be very mindful of his…I really love seeing this message being put out there.
Your rafflecopter isn’t open/working :(