In the summer of 2000 I found out that I had high blood pressure when my sister was in a car accident and ended up in a trama unit for a month and her son died. I flew back from a conference in Seattle and started the month long trek of going to Bronson Hospital every day (an hour drive each way). Did I mention that stress also raises blood pressure?. We had also tried to move to a low fat diet the year or so before this. We found that prepared low fat foods are all higher in sodium than the regular varieties.
After a few years of taking enough blood pressure medicine to make it hard to stay awake anytime, we attended a weekend seminar on curing health problems with lifestyle changes by Hans Diel, (known for the Coronary Heart Improvement Program, CHIP). I was already monitoring my blood pressure daily. We started looking for ways to reduce my sodium intake. As I lowered my sodium intake, my blood pressure went down. While maintaining a regular (daily) strenuous exercise program and lower sodium intake I started lowering my blood pressure medication, ever so gradually. After three months my medication usage had gone from 75mg per day to 12mg per day and I was having noticeably fewer migraines and generally felt better. At this point I had my annual physical and told my physician what I had been doing. He was not happy about the modified medication schedule but was happy about the lower blood pressure readings. I continued to feel over medicated much of the time and eventually reduced the medication to taking it only a couple of times a month when diet or stress caused my blood pressure to go up again. After about 3 years my physician finally accepted my regimen of exercise, diet, and much more limited use of medication to control my blood pressure.
I found that limiting sodium intake was a lot harder then I had expected. I didn't have too much trouble adapting to the change in flavor of food that had significantly less salt. The hard part was finding food with less salt. I found that most canned foods have loaded with salt. I started reading the labels of cans and jars in the grocery stores. Everything was high in salt, all canned vegetables, most frozen vegetables, breakfast cereals, vegetarian meat substitutes. Don't even think about commercial spaghetti sauce or other tomato products.
My family has been incredibly supportive in my diet. Lorena makes homemade tomato sauce seasoned with sauted onions, garlic, and green pepper and we make our own chili for hay stacks. We make up a batch and freeze most of it so we can pull it out when we need it. I get whole wheat pita bread and use them as a crust for personal pizzas with my homemade tomato sauce and whatever combination of toppings I want. The whole family has gotten used to eating a lower sodium diet. I don't think that I could maintain my diet without Lorena's support.
One of the first things that we started with, was replacing regular table salt with potassium chloride. We can buy it at the local grocery stores like Meijers. We have found unsalted frozen french fries at Meijers that we bake in the oven. I use low sodium ketchup with them and don't salt mine. I enjoy a little pepper on many foods to help spice it up a little. Sometimes I use a little cayenne pepper in moderation. My brother-in-law is also a pepper affectionado and grows his own peppers, dries them and grinds them up in a nice blend of habanero, jalapeno, and serrano. I tell people that if you add enough habanero, no one will notice the lack of salt.
I have found Bearitos Unsalted Corn Chips from Apple Valley Market that I can eat when the rest of my family eats various kinds of other chips. Martins Supermarkets also often carries unsalted potato chips that are pretty good. We buy lots of no salt vegetables and crushed tomatoes from Meijers.
There are some things that I have learned to categorically avoid, sweet breads like banana bread or zucchini bread. They are made with baking soda or powder which has sodium as a primary ingredient. Bagels are boiled in salt water.
My body is slowly teaching me to avoid things that are recognizably not good for me. If I go to a church potluck or out to eat and just enjoy all of the good food, I will start to feel poorly and get headaches within 8 hours or so. This feedback is helping me to slowly build up my resolve to eat better or at least not eat very much if I can't eat better. On the bright side, the most healthy part f the potluck meal for me are the desserts as long as I leave the sweet breads and brownies alone. My dessert motto is “If it has fruit in it and oats on top, it must be good for me.”.
I will try to add to this as I think of more and get permission to include some recipes that I have modified from already healthy recipe books.