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Supersalt Me

There is a terribly trashy reality television show on cable TV called ‘Supersize vs Superskinny’. On this show, people who are unhealthily overweight swap eating habits with people who are dangerously skinny.

The underweight people cringe and look rather nauseated when suddenly faced with plates piled high with meat, cheesy pasta, creamy potato bakes, and huge slices of pizza dripping with oily cheese. Meanwhile, the overweight people stare in stupefied horror at the miniscule portions of tasteless boiled vegetables, lean meat, and salads without dressing.

It’s entertaining enough when it’s three a.m. in the morning and you can’t sleep, and haven’t been able to do so for the last two nights. For that matter, it’s also entertaining enough at three p.m. in the afternoon when you’ve been housebound for weeks and all you really want to do is sneak off to the nearest highway, hitch a ride, and make a new anonymous life in some overpopulated sprawling city (you know, open a second-hand book shop and fall in love with the flower seller around the corner; that sort of thing).

‘Supersize vs Superskinny’ varies in it’s usefulness to the contestants. Some of them make real changes while others slowly revert back to their former habits.

The way you eat is hard to change. I have always relied on food as an emotional safety net. If I felt stressed out, sad, or angry, I could go into the kitchen and whip up something comforting and delicious and feel like I could cope with the world again. It’s not just the factor of eating nice-tasting food, but the whole cooking process that does it. Chopping up ridiculously huge amounts of garlic and throwing it into a pan sizzling with good quality olive oil. Quickly running out to the garden, picking fresh herbs and chucking them straight in so that you can smell the delicious aromas wafting around your kitchen. Making soups, pasta sauces, fresh salads with feta cheese and olives and lovely salad dressing. It’s all pretty good. It gives you a sense of control, meaning, and fulfilment. And yes, it tastes pretty damn good too.

What I’m finding most difficult about my life right now, is that I’ve been placed on a fluid and salt restricted diet. This is because I have congestive heart failure, and too much fluid and salt would mean a further build up of fluid in my abdomen. Having a skinny frame and looking five months pregnant is bad enough already and, of-course, has dire consequences for my health, so the last thing I want to do is make it worse. I can only have 1.5 L of fluid per day, and no more than 93 mg of salt per 100 g of food.

Well. That’s how it would be if I followed Dr More Dreadful’s advice on this. Actually, he would probably tell me not to eat any salt what-so-ever. Even when it occurs naturally in some foods, like celery. However, there is also a diet sheet for heart failure patients from a nutritionist at the hospital, that says it is acceptable for patients to sometimes have up to 300 mg of sodium per 100 g of food. It also says that if you are out one day and have to buy food from a take-away shop, it is okay to have a sandwich on normally salted bread as long as you don’t have other salty things with it- ie, cheese, mustard, pickles, etc (all the nice things, basically).

Bread is pretty salty. It usually has over 600 mg of sodium per 100 g of bread. It seems strange to me that this is allowable, when so many other things aren’t.

Mostly, I try to find the middle path between Dr More Dreadful’s hardline approach and the part of the nutritionist’s diet sheet that says 300 mg of sodium is acceptable. This is difficult, however, and lately, I have been eating more and more of the 300 mg range, and even adding tiny pinches of salt to things like rice, pasta, and potatoes.

And yesterday I was very bad. We’re talking major deviancy here. I had to go to Manly Vale to have a blood test, and we went to a cafe for breakfast before-hand. I had ricotta cheese – not a salty cheese, but the amount of salt in ricotta varies considerably, so I really had no idea what was in it (not good!) on actual normal white bread with who knows how much sodium in it (dastardly!). And on this abominable salt-laden cheese-fest, I had grilled tomatoes. I asked if the chef could leave off the salt while cooking the tomatoes, but the waiter said that they were pre-made and they already had salt in them. And now dear Reader, prepare to be shocked. I shrugged and said I would have them anyway.

Truly, truly, evil. And today, when I weighed myself, I was 300 g heavier than yesterday. Was it really the bread and tomatoes? Or was it the extra pinch of salt I put on my popcorn the other night? Or is it actually related to some other factor that is beyond my control?

My friends and family have been wonderfully helpful in tracking down low-salt products in supermarkets and cooking elaborate low-salt dishes. The problem, however, is not that there are not enough low-salt foods that I can eat, it is simply that I like salt. I really just want to eat food with salt in it. There’s no getting around it.

So I sympathise with the contestants on ‘Supersize vs Superskinny’. Food is important. It’s hard to break habits. I’m going to have to learn to live with this diet until I start the Flolan, and probably for a few months afterwards before it starts working properly.

Months and months without brie, Camembert, fetta, haloumi, even good old tasty cheese. Without dolmades and olives. Without potato chips or nachos, without my delicious tomato and basil soup, or my hearty potato and leek soup. Without plain old lovely toast and butter. Without San Remo spinach fettuccine with butter and soy sauce (trust me, it’s damn good). Without roast vegetables, mashed potato, and mushroom gravy. Without (shock, horror) proper pasta sauce with actual parmesan cheese. 

Oh the hardship.

This morning after having a mini nervous breakdown over my 300g of weight gain (yes, I’m becoming incredibly neurotic) I made a fairly okayish crepes Suzette. It had no salt at all, which made me feel like I was making a good choice for once, and it was also pretty darn fantastic to actually cook something, as lately I’ve been too tired to do much cooking.

While I do seem to be getting better – no more temperatures and an iron infusion has lifted my energy a little – I’m really just waiting to start taking Flolan. When this happens my life will be a lot worse for a little while then maybe it will get better.

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5 responses »

  1. If I eat “normal” restaurant food, I gain a pound or two overnight. And yes, I feel at times it makes no sense that most foods are so salty when none of us benefits from so much of the stuff. Even healthy older people should keep their daily salt intake to 1500 mg which is pretty impossible if you’re eating restaurant food or not paying attention to the details as you cook. It is kind of a mind blower. And I sure can relate to your desire for salty foods. Me too. P.S. I made some very good no salt dill pickles recently and I have to say, they satisfy even though they are ot at all salty. Keep trying recipes with minimal salt. You just need to try new things.

    Reply
  2. I cannot imagine no salt.
    Painful!
    I once had to go on a no sugar diet (and that means no fruit or bread or anything that converts to sugar). I lasted a few days of muscle weakness and generally feeling like I’d been hit by a bus…then gave up and decided hypoglycemia was better :-/
    And more recently, one of my doctors, in trying to figure out reasons for fatigue (hmmm…could it be low O2 sat on a 6 min walk??? Or just that my body and mind have been through hell this past couple of years…?) recently tested me for celiac disease. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’ll stick with the snottiness, people-driving-away cough, fatigue and short-of-breathness thank you very much.
    Don’t make me give up yummy food.
    In fact, I’m having a shitty day and am about to head out for cake…
    Hang in there. Hopefully after settling on the Flolan you’ll be able to eat better again.

    Reply
  3. Wow, this is the complete opposite of my diet! My cardiologist told me to chug back 2 liters of water a day minimum, and to put so much salt on my food that my tongue burns. I can not imagine living with out salt. My fingers are crossed for you that you can get on Flolan soon, and it works, and you can go back to eating all the delicious salty foods you can!

    Reply
  4. I find adding lemon juice to soup at the end of cooking soup really adds to the flavour and you can be quite generous with it. Good in salad dressing too and if you can’t have salt, you can still have chilli you. Get some Mexican Chilli Powder by Masterfoods. It’s great. Plus consider this a good chance to experiment with other spices and flavours and styles of cooking. Salts bad for all of us. Perhaps we should all go on a salt free diet in cameraderie. K x

    Reply
  5. Hello. I’m Nikki. I understand what u mean with the sodium, fluid restriction diet. I have kidney failure and there are important restrictions with that too like potassium, fluid, sodium etc. Last year my kidneys totally failed before I was booked in to get my dialysis catheter and I started having uremic seizures. I spent 2 weeks in ICU unconcious. Very lucky I survived!
    I don’t know much about heart failure and am learning from your blog! 🙂 Thankyou for sharing!

    Reply

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