On or about Jan. 2, 2013, I began considering sodium.
Didn't pay particular attention to it until my heart stopped functioning properly.
"Cut down on the salt," the cardiologists said.
"I don't put salt on my food," I replied.
They told me that salt is everywhere. In processed food -- all that stuff in the center aisles of your local grocery store. Frozen foods too.
"Frozen foods?" I asked. "Pizza and TV dinners and lasagna don't need salt."
"Check the labels," the docs advised.
Due to my wife's diabetes, I check labels for sugar and carbs. Sodium hadn't been a big concern. Until the widowmaker brought me to the ER and the attention of the cardio unit.
They halted my congestive heart failure and installed a stent. Put me on a cardiac diet. For a week, the nutritionist in the hospital kitchen told me what I couldn't have more often that she agreed with my dietary choices. Once I was out and about again, wandering the aisles of King Soopers, I read some amazing horror stories on food labels. Hormel Chili with beans, one of my faves, contained 990 mg. of sodium for one-cup serving. That meant that a can of chili, warmed up in the microwave and served during the Broncos game, gave me almost 500 mg of sodium more than the 1,500 mg. daily intake recommended by cardiologists. Throw in some "saltines" and cheese and beer and soon I was at the average of 3,400 mg. of sodium ingested daily by Americans.
That was a shocker. But prowling the frozen foods aisles was really enlightening. Those big pot pies are one of my guilty pleasures. I loved them as a kid. But they are loaded with sodium. Why? Freezing preserves the food, so salt and MSG are not necessary. One can only assume it's for the taste. We Americans love our salt! And what about the salt lobby? Is there some branch of The Illuminati that loads us with salt, making us compliant, water-logged, obese drones ready to do the bidding of this secret cabal? Get on this, Dan Brown!
Face it, our industrial food system is still stuck in mom's 1955 kitchen. Our families were so happy to be rid of the Depression and the world war, that we would do anything to have three squares a day. Salt was a celebrated part of the Great American Diet. Hell, the East Germans and the Chinese were starving. We got all Henry Ford on our food system. Mom and Dad showered us with mac and cheese and rump roasts and hot dogs and Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies.
Do I blame them? Hell no. All my mom got for Christmas during the 1930s was an orange and a handful of walnuts. Was she concerned with a little bit of salt? Hell no. She was happy to be feeding her kids -- all nine of them. They all grew up to be strapping lads and lassies, me included. I kept eating as if it was 1955 right up until my LAD artery got clogged and I went in for a Roto Rooter job.
So what is a 64-year-old American man supposed to do about food? Eat less. Eat right. Exercise more. Nothing I didn't already know. Then I didn't really, did I? I opted for the easy solution. Pizza and Big Macs and those big plates of food they serve you at every restaurant, especially here in Wyoming and my other home places in the South. I love all that barbecue and chicken-fried steak and burgers and ice cream. But I want to stick around for awhile. That doesn't mean that I, as a creative cook, can't come up with solutions.
Taste my chili -- please! I make a low-sodium chili that is not bad. I am not going to win any prizes at the chili cook-off. But I don't care about that. I just want it to taste good and get some appreciation from my friends and colleagues. You will not unduly tax your heart when eating my chili! I can make that boast.
I'm making a batch today in my slow cooker. I made some last week for the Broncos game and the chili was better than the game, especially when you consider the lackluster performance by Peyton Manning. I kept some as a starter dose for this weekend's chili/salsa/dessert fund-raiser put on by the Laramie County Democrats, which is Sunday, Oct. 25, from 6-8 p.m. Wyoming Democrats must pay attention to our longevity. There are so few of us that we can't stand to lose anyone to heart failure. I'm doing my part by cutting back on the sodium. A lowered heart rate might allow us to once again clinch a majority in both houses of the state legislature by 2050, the year I turn 100. Combine longevity with an influx of young immigrants eager to make their way in Wyoming's very creative atmosphere, and you have Democrats galore. You say that you can't move to Wyoming due to too many right-wing dingbats in the legislature? They can't live forever, especially when you consider the average Wyomingite's salt-laden diet. Be patient.
Today, low-sodium chili. Tomorrow, the world or, at least, WYO.
BTW, do I have a recipe? Not really. My only goal is to keep the sodium content below 350 mg. per one-cup serving, which is what nutritional guidelines recommend for all foods. That is approximately one-third of the Hormel Chili variety I referenced above. It's about one-half of the levels in Hormel low-sodium chili with beans.