Low Salt? High Potassium

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I suppose all diets are difficult on some level.  I’ve done them all over the decades – some are difficult to follow because they leave you hungry or the taste is awful; some are difficult to implement because they require lots of trips to the store and a ton of time in the kitchen.

But the low potassium/low carb diet (literally) takes the cake!  The number of foods that fit easily in both of those columns is VERY small. If it’s good for you in one diet (say, avocado in low carb) it’s bad for you in the other (potassium bomb).

While my focus in this blog and in my kitchen is not usually on low sodium recipes, I do keep my eye on our salt intake.  And the Low Salt Chicken Soup I posted last year I thought was a keeper – I’ve been feeding it to my husband for the better part of a year!  It was chicken, a low potassium staple.  It had noodles, but that was easy to eliminate or reduce, so I thought it would fit into the new low carb aspect of his diet.  Turns out that is not the problem.

The problem is the store-bought low sodium chicken broth.  When I first started making the soup, I saw the sodium level in the regular chicken broth (928 mg per 8 oz serving!!!!!) and opted for the low sodium version.  The broth I buy,  Swanson’s Chicken Broth, does not display potassium information.  Well, MOST products on your store shelf will not display potassium information.  But if I would have investigated further, I would have discovered:

Swanson’s 99% Fat Free Chicken Broth has 928mg of sodium per 8 oz serving and 68g of potassium.  Their 33% Less Sodium Chicken Broth is 570 mg of sodium and 286g of potassium!  :(

Most people would take that tradeoff, but it is a big problem for people on a low potassium diet.

I’m definitely not willing to serve hubby 928mg of sodium in his soup (cuz high sodium doesn’t help kidney patients either), so I sadly had to delete the Low Salt Chicken Soup recipe from this blog AND from my kitchen.

On the bright side, researching the nutrition data on my soup enlightened me on an important rule for low potassium dieters:  Never buy “low sodium” product offerings, as they trade off  low salt for high potassium.

Truth be told, soup is just not a good option for low potassium dieters unless you make it yourself,  from the bottom up, no shortcuts!  It’s just too high in both potassium and salt.  Check your soup labels at the grocery store.  They all list sodium levels, which are high high high.  If you are lucky enough to see potassium on the label, you’ll see those levels are also out of the park.

In the coming weeks I’m going to put together a homemade, low salt chicken stock recipe that can be used as a base for lots of different chicken recipes.  As chicken is a low potassium diet staple, the more chicken recipes I can locate or create, the better!  But for now, so long chicken soup :(

Skinny Scandinavian Eggs Benedict

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Yum … lox, avocado, eggs and english muffin.  Add a little freshly squeezed lemon and fresh dill and you have a great start to your day without any gloppy hollandaise.  These eggs benedict are fresh, delicious and healthy for someone on a low potassium/low carb diet (and the calories are low too!).   While avocado and lox are high in potassium, they also have many health benefits (and taste great), so minimizing portion size on both of these foods manages the potassium content while tingling your taste buds and helping to keep you satisfied until lunch.

Servings:  2

Ingredients:

1 english muffin
1/2 avocado
2 oz smoked salmon
2 eggs
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Red chili flakes
Fresh dill
2 Lemon wedges- 1/8 lemon ea

Directions:

Thinly slice one avocado half.
Spray a frying pan lightly with spray oil and fry eggs to desired consistency – over easy, medium, or hard. Add onion powder, garlic powder, and fresh cracked black pepper on top of the eggs, to taste.
Split and toast english muffin. On each half, place a cooked egg, half of the sliced avocado, 1 oz. lox. Squeeze on lemon juice, and sprinkle chili flakes and fresh dill on top.

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 313
Carbs: 18 g
Potassium: 332 mg

Breakdown:               Cal        Carb               Pot
1/2 english muffin:       65       14g                 34mg
1/4 Calif avocado        114         3g                 172mg
1 oz lox                          55          0g                    50mg
1 egg, fried/spray oil      78      .5g                    70mg
1/8 lemon juice                1       .5g                      6 mg

A New Beginning

Today marks the beginning, or a “rebirth” of sorts, for this blog.  To date I have enjoyed posting recipes that caught my fancy, that I considered  healthy in one way or another.  But there has not been a specific focus for the blog until now.

As the main “chef” in my household of two, I have tried to cook healthy by the broadest definition, that is to say, using ingredients and methods deemed healthy for people without major diagnosed illness or health issues.  But that is changing due to hubby’s recent twin diagnoses:  hyperkalemia and pre-diabetes.

Most folks are aware that diabetics and pre-diabetics must watch their carbohydrate intake.  Fish, fresh vegetables, non-processed foods are the order of the day.  Probably a good diet for anyone, right?  Wrong.  My hubby’s hyperkelemia diagnosis means a dietary quandry.

Hyperkalemia is a condition that signifies the presence of too much potassium in the bloodstream.  Potassium is needed for life; a critical nutrient for your heart, nerves and muscle cells.  While most people are seeking foods rich in potassium, a person with hyperkalemia must constantly monitor the amount of potassium in his or her diet.  Too much potassium can stop the heart!  A sobering danger.  Yet, potassium is in almost everything we eat.

Your kidneys are supposed to filter out excess potassium from your bloodstream, but sometimes the kidneys do not work properly and this can lead to hyperkalemia.  It is not a very common problem, especially in someone otherwise active and healthy like my hubby!  The doctors don’t know exactly why his kidneys aren’t filtering properly, but the fact remains that we must be vigilant about his potassium intake, in addition to the medications prescribed to help manage this problem.

So for the past few years (since he was diagnosed with hyperkalemia) I have erred on the side of processed foods when trying to come up with a menu that is low in potassium.  Processed foods like white bread, cakes, pies, all are very low in potassium, as is white rice and other high carb foods.  So if I am serving fish (most fish extremely high in potassium), I would serve hubby a small fish serving and add white rice to fill him up. Breakfast?  Pancakes, of course.  A lot less potassium than a veggie omelet!  And he is so slim I never worried about the calories.

But now … the doctor called the other day and said his bloodwork is showing him to be in the pre-diabetic range.  “Go on a low carb diet,” she said.  “And watch the proteins since you have kidney issues.”  My response … are you kidding me?  Don’t eat high potassium foods …. that’s fish, dairy, whole grains, most vegetables, legumes, beef, pork.  Watch the protein … one of the few things low in carbs.  Don’t eat much carbs … that’s what’s left!  Needless to say, I stressed out :(

I will get the hubster in to see a nutritionist soon, but in the meantime I am scouring the web to get meal ideas for his opposing dietary needs.  It is not easy!  So I am sharing my menus on this blog for anyone who has the twin dilemma of “low potassium/low carb.”

But … I am not a doctor!  I can’t make dietary recommendations like a nutritionist could.  I am simply sharing what I am cooking based on my own online research.  And reliable potassium information is ridiculously hard to find!  It is not required on packaging.  When you look up potassium content online for any given food, you find little consistency.  The numbers are all over the place, and opposing recommendations, too.  “This food is low in potassium! ” says one website.  On another, the same food is listed as a high potassium, “food to avoid” for hyperkalemia patients.

What I have done is use what seems to be the most reliable information out there.   Most of the time I use the USDA’s National Nutrient Database www.ndb.nal.usda.gov .  But that website does not have all foods listed.  So my research approach is to try to find more than one site, with at least one professional organization (like the American Diabetes Association, for one) that agrees on potassium amounts in the foods I am cooking.  And then I will add this info to my online recipes.

If you have these dietary issues in your family I would love to hear about your recipes and ideas for creating a healthy menu.  So … here goes!  Day One of my new blog :)

Cream of Chicken Soup

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I’m into soup this time of year, and Cream of Chicken is not only a yummy soup, it’s a great base for lots of hearty and healthy winter dishes.  This easy, basic recipe makes a decent-sized pot of soup that can be used to make (in addition to just soup) pretty much anything with a creamy chicken base!

I adapted this recipe from one that was a bit more complicated (and a lot less healthy) on foodnetwork.com.  This version is low fat  (low for a creamed soup!) and low salt.  For the EZ, I use store-bought rotisserie chicken AND store-bought gravy.  The pre-cooked chicken saves about an hour of cooking time, while adding richness to the soup’s flavor.  (You could always use leftover chicken in this soup, but the taste is superior using a whole rotisserie chicken.)  Using pre-made gravy saves the time (and guesswork) of whisking together flour and butter as a thickener.  For me it’s never as easy as the recipes describe to thicken a soup with flour and butter.  It gets lumpy.  I get grumpy.  So I like the gravy shortcut.

But.

When I say use Campbell’s canned chicken gravy, I suggest you don’t try to substitute another brand unless you check the label carefully.  After checking three other brands of canned or bottled gravy, I was disgusted with all the weird additives in the other gravies!  So I’d suggest using Campbell’s or making your own.  But a big issue with using this gravy is that I cannot find potassium information on it.  So the best bet for this soup would be to make your own gravy, for which I hope to add a low-potassium recipe in the near future.

I will be posting other recipes that use this Cream of Chicken Soup as a base in coming days.  Meantime, if you live in a cold climate, fight off the cold with a bowl of nice hot Cream of Chicken Soup!  You can double this recipe and freeze the rest to use later.  (If you decide to double the recipe, only one rotisserie chicken need be simmered in the soup, with the meat from a second chicken added once the first carcass has been removed from the broth.)

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped

3 medium carrots, chopped

2 -cans (10 1/2 oz) Campbell’s chicken gravy or 2 1/2 cups homemade chicken gravy

6 cups chicken broth, homemade (recipe coming soon!)

1/2 to 1 cup (according to taste) sliced mushrooms

3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

3 springs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 whole cooked rotisserie chicken (from your grocery)

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

1/2 cup half-and-half

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the gravy and cook through, stirring occasionally, for 2 -3 minutes more.

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Pour in the broth and stir well until gravy is dissolved into the broth. Add the whole chicken to the soup, including any juices (remove any twine or other foreign materials from the chicken before adding to soup).

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Bring the soup to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Tie the parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine. (I used the twine from the rotisserie chicken!)

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Add herb bundle, mushrooms, onion powder, garlic powder, and  cracked pepper to soup.   Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Turn off heat and remove chicken from pot.

(Optional:  For a creamier soup, pour about a third of the soup into a blender or Ninja/Vitamix and pulse til smooth.  Pour blended soup back into the pot.)

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Let chicken carcass cool, and then shred chicken, removing and discarding bones and skin. Add chicken meat back into pot, and bring to a boil.

Remove pot from the heat.

Whisk the half and half into the soup and season with additional cracked pepper to taste. Remove and discard the herb bundle. Sprinkle chopped parsley atop soup and serve immediately (and freeze what’s left over!)

Eggplant with chicken

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This easy, one-dish dinner is quick, healthy and tasty. It has just the right level of spice (you can adjust to your taste) and loads of flavor. I use Simply Organic curry and garam masala; you can use other brands but I could not vouch for the outcome! I adapted this recipe from an eggplant recipe on allrecipes.com.

This dish is also ideal for using up any leftover chicken or lamb you might have sitting in the fridge. If you have leftovers, substitute about 1/2 to 3/4 lb. cooked meat for the chicken breast. Chop cooked meat (no need to sauté) and add to eggplant mixture 15 minutes before eggplant is done. If you want a vegetarian meal, just leave out the meat altogether.

1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ginger paste)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon Simply Organic Curry Powder
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
Dash Simply Organic garam masala (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1/2 lb.)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse eggplant and slice into 1″ slices. (I like leaving the skins on, but if you prefer you can peel the eggplant before slicing.) Place the pieces on a paper towel and lightly salt them. Let sit for 1 to 2 hours, allowing water to sweat out of the eggplant. Pat eggplant slices dry with another paper towel, and then cut the eggplant into small cubes.

Heat the olive oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and let them turn golden brown, which should only take about 20 seconds (do not let them burn). Add the onion, ginger and garlic; cook and stir until tender. Stir in the tomato and season with curry powder, cayenne (optional) and garam masala (optional), salt and black pepper. Cook and stir for a few minutes.

Add cubed eggplant and cook at medium heat, covered, stirring often, for about a half hour, or until eggplant loses most of its water and has darkened and softened.

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While the eggplant is cooking, season chicken breast with onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Heat a medium frying pan coated with spray oil over medium high heat. Sear chicken breast in the pan until both sides are brown but middle is still pink, about 5-7 minutes per side. Remove chicken from heat and let cool; cube chicken when it is cool enough to handle.

When eggplant has been cooking about 30 minutes and has lost most of its water and has darkened and softened, add cubed chicken and cook an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

Serves 4.

Sautéed Sea Bass

Sea Bass and Artichoke

Adapted this recipe from Grilled Sea Bass on Allrecipes.com.  The main difference is I sautéed the fish in a pan on the stove rather than grilling it; the sautéed fish is crispier and looks prettier!  Just make these changes to the recipe:  Use the olive oil in the recipe to coat a large frying pan, rather than drizzling it on the fish.  Heat the pan (instead of a grill) on high until really hot, add the fish, then reduce to medium high heat.  Follow recipe for other ingredients and cook time.

Yummy with steamed artichokes!

Sausage and peppers casserole

When you’re in the mood for low carb, this casserole is fantastic!  Got this recipe a couple years ago from food network (click for the whole recipe).

Not a lot of work, just some chopping and mixing ….

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Cut up veggies and saute

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Brown turkey sausage and combine with veggies

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Bake in the oven about 40 min. and serve, sprinkled with fresh basil and shredded parmesan.  Mmmm!  Really tasty.

I use either chicken or turkey italian sausage; you can use mild or hot sausages based on your preference.  I don’t add the hot cherry peppers listed as “optional” in the recipe, and for kids you can omit the red pepper flakes and then just add them later to adult servings.