, , , , , , , , , ,

I just thought it could use a little salt…”
“No salt! No salt! Keep the palate pure!”
“We don’t allow any condiments here, not even salt. At Spirro’s,  taste buds are refined to the ultimate degree!”

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Specialty of the House (1959)

The “Master of the Macabre” never intended for his Specialty of the House to eliminate hypertension. Tension was his primary goal, in fact… the more hyper, the better. The impassioned salt interdiction by the members of Spirro’s club was meant to be bizarre and evoke the feeling that for these men, food was an obsession approaching madness. Indeed, the highest aspiration of these fanatical foodies was to become life members of the club, a privilege that seemed to be bestowed disproportionately on the more massive members. Unfortunately, one of the secret perks of life membership was death.

The DASH diet, contrariwise, was developed primarily as a way to reduce hypertension and put off death. So it may seem ironic to Hitchcock fans that the main focus of the DASH diet is also “No salt!”. Fortunately for us foodies, other condiments such as spices and herbs are encouraged. And indeed, when you’ve gone for a while on a low salt diet, you’ll find that your taste buds will become more refined and allow you to pick out the myriad other flavors that excessive salt has been masking. As it turns out, being a foodie is not at all incompatible with a low-sodium diet.

I am a foodie. Food — delicious food — has always been the centerpiece of family get-togethers. I truly enjoy tasting good food. I look at pictures of food and daydream about how it might taste. I even love reading recipes. I am congenitally incapable of following a recipe without making changes to it — “They forgot to include garlic in this recipe!” or “What? No mushrooms? You have to have mushrooms!”.

Unfortunately, a series of sedentary and stressful desk jobs have taken their toll on my body. I finally had to make up my mind to be more… well… mindful of what I eat.

About 8 to 10 years ago, when I was first diagnosed with hypertension, Dr. Janet Martin had given me some papers on the DASH diet.  It seemed like a reasonable, doable, diet. It didn’t look like one of those suspicious fad diets. It was based on scientific nutrition studies conducted at NIH. The USDA MyPlate (the successor to the food pyramid) is based on the same research. I followed it for a while, but there were not many low sodium choices around, and while I do enjoy cooking, I don’t have a lot of time for cooking from scratch (see “stressful jobs” above). The papers were eventually lost, and when I went looking online for the DASH diet, I couldn’t find it.

A couple of months ago (when I made up my mind to be mindful), I went looking for the DASH diet again, and this time, I was able to find new updated materials. And Amazon had some books*, which I immediately bought for my Kindle. I spent a week reading about it, and determined I would give it a try.

The DASH diet web site at NIH includes a one-week sample menu. I decided to follow that menu for a week. And then I would see about constructing my own daily menus, and try that for a week. And I would just take it a week at a time, no commitment. And they say that if you can do something for 21 days in a row, it becomes a habit. So maybe it would for me too, but I made no commitment. If I ended up giving up, I was no worse off than if I never tried.

Well, I tried to follow the sample menu that first week. I really did. But I was too stuffed! There was no way I could cram all that food in. Then I noticed that the sample menu was based on a 2000 calorie diet. I made the changes they recommended for the 1600 calorie diet, and that was much more manageable.

I have been on the DASH diet for 8 weeks now, and I’m hooked. Hooked enough to start a blog about it, anyway.

My goal for this blog will be to share my experiences with the DASH diet, techniques I’ve used, DASH-appropriate products I’ve found (there are a lot more low sodium foods available now than 10 years ago, but they still take an effort to find), but mostly recipes. The DASH Diet books explain the DASH diet pretty well, but they were written by dietitians and nutritionists. The recipes in the books are mostly bland and unimaginative. I spend time working out my daily menus and coming up with recipes to fill out the right number of servings for each food group. Might as well write it all down and share it…

But I promise: Lamb Armistan, the Specialty of the House, will not be among those recipes…


*Here are the books I bought:
The DASH Diet Health Plan: Low-Sodium, Low-Fat Recipes to Promote Weight Loss, Lower Blood Pressure, and Help Prevent Diabetes by John Chatham
The DASH Diet Action Plan: Proven to Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Without Medication (A DASH Diet Book) by Marla Heller
You really don’t need both: they say pretty much the same thing in different ways. If you want to get deep into the background of the DASH diet, and all the ills that it can fix or prevent, both books (and probably many others) cover all that pretty thoroughly.  Look at the samples on Amazon and decide which style suits you better. But all you really need to get started is the NIH summary,  found in printable (pdf) format here.