In addition to Halloween and gorgeous fall foliage, October heralds the return of the Low Sodium Spotlight! This month’s featured guest is Dick Logue, well-known cookbook author and the man behind the website LowSodiumCooking.com. It’s no exaggeration to say Dick is one of the greatest resources of low sodium information and inspiration around today.
Dick, for those who might be unfamiliar with your story, can you tell us when and why you adopted a low sodium diet? What has been the impact on your health?
My low sodium lifestyle all started in 1999. I had a cough that wouldn’t go away, waking me in the middle of every night, and after some tests was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. One of the first, and biggest, things I had to deal with was my cardiologist’s insistence that I follow a low sodium diet … 1200 mg a day more or less. I began reading labels, checking the sodium content. Like most people, I was amazed at how much sodium was in the things I ate. The canned chili topped with cheese and accompanied by tortilla chips that I might take for lunch had twice the total amount of sodium I was allowed for the entire day. I found it easiest to just avoid the things that had a lot of sodium in them. We had a lot of meals of plain meat, plain vegetables and plain potatoes, pasta or rice. The effect was dramatic. Six months after my diagnosis I had lost almost 30 pounds and no longer felt tired all the time and unable to do the things I liked to do. But I was bored. And I was convinced that there had to be a way to create low sodium versions of the food I missed … Chinese food, pizza, sausage… Fortunately I’d learned to cook from my mother early in my life and my wife and I had shared the cooking duties and done a lot of food-related stuff like raising vegetables, making bread and giving food gifts for Christmas. So I at least had some idea of where to start. I also learned all kinds of new cooking things. I researched where to get low sodium substitutes for the things that I couldn’t have any more, bought cookbooks, and basically re-did my whole diet. I made from scratch a number of things I had either given up making before or never even tried. The list included things like barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, mustard, salad dressings, soup (yes, I made my own “condensed cream of whatever” soup for recipes), shake and bake … in short, almost anything that I used to buy conveniently in a box or can.
When did you begin your website? Were there any motivating factors behind the launch?
My newsletter and website really started by accident. I was a subscriber to the email newsletter being published by Pete Eiden, the founder of Healthy Heart Market (still a great place to buy low sodium products that you can’t find locally). Pete mentioned having Campbell’s low sodium soups and I wrote back to say that they didn’t always work in recipes because they were ready to eat, rather than condensed, mentioning that I had developed a low sodium condensed soup to use in our Thanksgiving green bean casserole. In reply Pete asked if I would mind him publishing the recipe in his next newsletter. This got me thinking that maybe I had learned some things and created some recipes that could help other people. I decided to try to share this information with others who were in the same position I had been in … bored with tasteless food or ready to give up on their low sodium diet and go back to their old ways. In July of 2001 I started LowSodiumCooking.com as a place to share recipes, tips and ingredient sources. I also started sending out my low sodium recipe newsletter, the first one to 6 subscribers. That has now grown to over 20000 subscribers and I’ve sent out almost 300 newsletters.
Dick, in addition to the site you’ve written a number of wonderful cookbooks. Can you tell us more about them? Were they simply an outgrowth of the website or had you intended on publishing them from the beginning?
It’s beginning to sound like a pattern, but that was almost accidental too. It was something I had thought about. I had even gone as far as to self publish a little book of 50 basic recipes to help people get started that could be ordered online. I looked into publishing a longer book, perhaps again doing it myself, but I hadn’t gone as far as contacting any publishers to see if they had any interest in such a book. Instead they contacted me. I had a email from an editor at Fair Winds Press. They had been publishing a series of 500 Recipe books focusing in various diet and health areas. They thought there would be interest in a low sodium book and wondered if I would be willing to write it. Of course I jumped at the chance. And from there one thing led to another. The book was well received and I was given the chance to do more books in the series. Fortunately, the topics they had in mind all tended to be heart health related and fit well with my own situations, which also included high cholesterol and diabetes. Although some of the books contain some recipes that are not really low sodium, they all focus on the dietary guidelines that I things are important to heart health like low sodium, low saturated and trans fats, higher fiber and fresh ingredients.
Which of your books is your personal favorite? Do you routinely cook from them at home or are you more of an improvisational chef? Do you have any other resources you’d like to recommend?
The original 500 Low-Sodium Recipes is still my favorite. That one contained what I thought were the best and most often used recipes that I had at the time. The goal was to have one book that people could use every day, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, entertaining or whatever. A lot of times I just create something as I go along, based on what we have on hand and what I feel like eating. One of the problems I had originally was actually measuring and writing down the ingredients so I could share them. But I frequently also go back to the old favorites, knowing that I want biscuits or barbecue sauce or that particular spice rub. And the majority of the time it’s in that first book. There are also some other websites that I use regularly. Don Gazzaniga has a great site at Megaheart.com. He has recipes there and has also published some books, focusing on very low sodium recipes for a 500 mg a day goal. As I mentioned earlier, Healthy Heart Market is a great place to buy low sodium products. Good places to look locally include health food stores as well as markets that focus on natural and organic foods like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Often when I’m looking for something I’ll just search all websites online until I find a recipe that sounds good and then go about figuring out how to make it low sodium.
Salt-free cooking often stresses creativity and imagination. One of my favorite recipes of yours (which I’ve adapted on The Daily Dish) is for a “faux” soy sauce. It may not taste like soy sauce on its own, but partnered with other ingredients it’s a wonderful imitation. How on earth did you get the idea for this?! What are some of your other favorite creations?
Soy sauce was one of my first big challenges. I love Chinese and other Asian food, but the usual recipes contain about a day’s worth of sodium in one serving. The lowest commercial ones were still almost 400 mg per serving. So I began searching and experimenting. That recipe is based on one found in Merle Schell’s Salt Free Chinese Cookbook. She wrote several salt free international cookbooks that are now out of print, but if you can find a copy they have a lot of good recipes and ideas. Over the years I’ve played with it until it reached its current form, which tries to balance sodium level with taste. I think one of the key breakthroughs was the idea that you can make low sodium versions or substitutes for things like soy sauce or Bisquick that let you make recipes that you wouldn’t otherwise. Probably the recipes that first come to my mind as favorites are not the ones other people would notice. They are the lower sodium version of old family favorites like the meatloaf, meatballs and green bean casserole in the first book.
Dick, what are your plans for the future? Any other books on the horizon? Please dish!
There is another book on the way. I’m just wrapping up the final manuscript of 500 15-Minute Low Sodium Recipes. The goal is to provide a number of quick easy recipes that meet our low sodium guidelines while addressing the reasons that I hear most often about why people have difficulty with a low sodium lifestyle. These include, it costs too much, it doesn’t taste good, it’s too expensive and especially it takes too long. Everyone has a busy life these days and it’s easy to decide you don’t have time for make a meal from scratch and pick a convenience food or stop at the fast food place. These recipes, most of which take 15 minutes or less from start to finish, address that need.
HUGE thanks to Dick for sharing! And best of luck in the future.