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A drainage pipe got separated from its source and spilled water all over the basement floor. We had to move things out of the way and take up the carpeting and use the wet vac back and forth. With all the bending over and lifting heavy weights, we were hot and sweaty, and our backs were sore. So I really didn’t feel like cooking. And there wasn’t much to cook anyway because the time spent cleaning up the basement was the time I had been planning to spend grocery shopping. Things happen… Sometimes cooking isn’t an option, and sometimes you just feel like you need a treat. Today, it was a bit of both.

Eating out on the DASH diet can be a challenge, but it can be done. It just takes a bit of planning. Most restaurants with prominent bars tend to make everything very salty so that you’ll drink more, because drinks are where they make their biggest profits. Restaurant menus usually include what they refer to as “healthy options” — but these are invariably low-calorie and/or low-fat, with no regard to sodium. Innocuous-sounding vegetarian dishes can be loaded up with salt to make them more “palatable”, as if the only thing that has any taste is salt. Even salads tend to be very high-sodium because the dressings are saturated with salt.

In the U.S., we have been trained to equate healthy eating with low-calorie or low-fat. Despite numerous pleas from the American Heart Association for everyone — not just those with high blood pressure — to reduce their sodium intake, these pleas have been mostly ignored by food producers as well as consumers. This is why, even though the DASH Diet also includes watching calories and fat, I’m going to focus especially on sodium in this post and in most of my blog posts.

I searched the web for nutritional menus for nearby restaurants. Some don’t post nutrition info — those are out of the running. I can’t eat there if I don’t know what I’m getting. Others do post their nutrition info, and the sodium amounts are through the roof! After going through half a dozen or more restaurant nutrition pages, I thought of Red Hot & Blue. We hadn’t been there in over a year. They have really good barbecue. I didn’t hold up a lot of hope for them… Barbecue? That’s got to be high in sodium, right? But, always the optimist, I looked anyway, and found the Red Hot & Blue nutritional menu.

Imagine my surprise when, nestled among a large selection of entrées with over 1000 mg of sodium (up to a whopping 5257 mg for the Cajun Fried Catfish Platter), I found that their pulled pork entrée is only 247 mg of sodium. The pulled chicken is just 271 mg. Even more surprising, their Delta Double with Pulled Pork is just 410 mg. The Delta Double is a small portion of barbecue ribs combined with another meat dish. It comes with BBQ beans (314 mg) and Cole Slaw (236 mg). Now, you want to stay away from the DD with sausage (1723 mg) or with Memphis Chicken (1234 mg), but the one with pulled chicken is just 425 mg. For the ribs, go for sweet or wet ribs — the dry seasoning more than doubles the amount of sodium. (Farther up the nutritional info page, you’ll see that the half-slab of wet ribs is 528 mg of sodium, half-slab of sweet ribs is 548, and half-slab of dry ribs is 1243 mg).

Depending on what food categories you’ve covered already that day (or plan to cover later), you may want to substitute corn on the cob (grains, only 14 mg sodium) and/or applesauce (fruits, 198 mg sodium) for the BBQ beans (nuts and legumes) and/or cole slaw (vegetables, fats). The baked sweet potato (vegetables, 314 mg) has the same amount of sodium as the BBQ beans, but double the calories (however, if you save half of it for tomorrow, it’ll be the same amount of calories and half the sodium). Stay away from the high sodium sides: hush puppies, mashed potatoes, fries, baked potato.

And oh, the pulled pork was delicious! And the ribs — tender meat, and not a lot of fat. Mmmm. And even though these were billed as small portions, I felt satisfied with just half the pork and half the ribs, so I brought the rest home and will have them for lunch tomorrow. Did I feel like they needed more salt? Absolutely not! I could really taste the wonderful smoked flavor of the pork. Salt would have masked it.

Leftover pulled pork and ribs from Red Hot & Blue

My leftover pulled pork and sweet ribs from Red Hot & Blue.

Did I go over my 1500 mg target for the day? Yes, probably, when you add in lunch and breakfast. But I was well below the 2300 mg maximum. And I needed a treat today.

  • Tip 1 for today: before going out to a restaurant, look for nutritional info online. Among the many items that are in the thousands of milligrams of sodium, you may find some real gems.
  • Tip 2 for today: always plan on bringing about half of your meal home, to have for lunch or dinner the next day. You’ll get to enjoy it twice, you’ll halve the sodium and calories, and you still won’t go home hungry. Do this particularly for the meat dish, which restaurants tend to serve in large portions. Remember to keep meat dishes to 3 oz. (I could splurge with a two-meat entree because I hadn’t had any meat yet, so I had my full 6 oz for the day in one meal).

Finally, I would like to send a big “Bravo!” to Red Hot & Blue for not hiding the taste of their wonderful pulled pork, pulled chicken, and BBQ ribs with an overabundance of salt! (How about reducing the sodium in some of your other entrées?)