Life after Transplant

Heart healthy/low sodium diet – Where to start?

When we first found out that Laura was going to need a heart transplant, we did loads of research into what that meant for her quality of life. One thing that stood out to us as something that we could control was our diet. A transplant recipient is at higher risk of two diseases which can be managed by diet:

  1. Kidney Disease
  2. Cardiac Allograft Vasculopothy (a quick moving form of Coronary Artery Disease)

In order to do our best to create a safe home for our daughter, we decided that we must make a drastic change to our diet so that as a family, we would be able to keep her healthy. There are so many things that we can’t control – when she gets sick, whether she develops PTLD (a form of lymphoma which affects transplant recipients), whether she gets graft versus host disease, etc. Diet, however, is something that is completely in our control.

Changing our diet has given us more energy, made us feel less bloated and yucky, and consequently, allowed us to lose 90 pounds between the two of us.

Making the decision to change is the easy part – the hard part is figuring out HOW to change. Here are the first steps that we took to embark on our low sodium/heart healthy diet and some common misconceptions about our diet:

Where to start?

  1. Cut out canned goods. 

Canned goods are PACKED full of sodium. These products will try to trick you into thinking that they are good for you. Take a look at the nutritional label for a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup:

Per 250 mL Serving                       Amount                       % Daily Value
Calories                                                70                                         70
Fat                                                         2 g                                        3%

Saturated Fat                                      0.5 g                                     3%
Cholesterol                                         10 mg
Sodium                                                800 mg                                33%
Carbohydrate                                     9 g                                        3%
Fibre                                                    1 g                                        4%
Sugars                                                 1 g
Protein                                                3 g
Vitamin A                                                                                        2%
Vitamin C
Calcium                                                                                            2%
Iron                                                                                                   4%
This soup boasts that it is ONLY 70 Calories per serving and that it has 0 trans fat. Good. I’m glad there is no trans fat, I really am but read further on the nutritional label and you will find that there are 800 mg of Sodium in ONE SERVING!! The label then tells you that this is 33% of your daily value which is not completely true. This is based off a 2300 mg per day intake which is the MAXIMUM amount of sodium that an adult should consume. The recommended intake of sodium per day is 1500 mg making one serving of this soup 53% of your daily sodium intake. If you add saltines you’re pretty well at your daily max.
Many people know that soups have tons of sodium but did you know that in one half cup serving of Aylmer’s Diced tomatoes you will find 190 mg of sodium? When I make chili I easily use a whole can of diced tomatoes which is 6.5 servings bringing the tomato content of my chili up to a whooping 1,235mg of sodium – nevermind what’s in the beans! When you make homemade soups, sauces and chillis with Diced tomatoes, choose the no salt added variety and save yourself all this unnecessary sodium! While you’re at it – just check into no-salt added varieties of canned beans, canned corn, canned salmon, etc.

2. Eliminate pre-made spices

It’s really easy to go to the store and pick up a jar of montreal steak spice or jerk seasoning but these pre-made spices can really add up the sodium content of your meal. 1 tsp of montreal steak spice contains 200mg of sodium! I would hazard to say that most people are using more than a teaspoon of this spice on their steak… Instead of buying the pre-made stuff, simply mix up your own Montreal Steak Spice at home in minutes:

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons crushed black pepper

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon granulated onion

1 tablespoon crushed coriander

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (ignore if you don’t like heat!)

I like to buy all my spices in bulk and mix up a bunch of seasonings to keep on hand in my own spice jars for convenience during the week. My go to seasonings right now are greek, italian, jerk, montreal steak spice, and ranch. I make all my seasonings with no salt and simply add the salt that is necessary to the dish seperately – allowing me to control the sodium content in our meals.

3. Eliminate/Drastically reduce fast food and fried foods

I don’t think this one comes as a shock to anyone – fast food and fried foods contain inordinate amounts of sodium, saturated and trans fats and generally have very little nutritional value to speak of. You don’t have to eliminate these foods entirely – but make them a treat. We will eat this type of food maybe once a month as a treat, if that.

4. Eat fish (preferably red fish) twice a week

Fish, especially Salmon and other red fleshed fish, contain a very high amount of monounsaturated fat and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which are incredibly good for both heart health and brain development. Adding these foods into your meals can be very simple (simply grill up a salmon fillet with lemon and basil, smoke it with hickory chips or cover it in a simple glaze of maple syrup, liquid smoke and a very small amount of low sodium soy sauce) .

5. Eat your greens, nuts and seeds!

Adding spinach to your morning smoothie does more than make you feel like a health nut, it actually adds a huge amount of Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin A, B and C, Potassium, and Calcium into your meal! If you want to keep your heart strong, consider adding leafy greens to your diet!

Nuts and seeds contain TONS of nutrients with the most obvious ones being Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and Magnesium, both of which are very important in heart health! Consider tossing some pumpkin seeds (rich in magnesium) or almonds(great source of protein) on your salad or using walnut oil rather than olive oil in your dressing!

Chia seeds are the largest plant based source of Omega 3 fatty acids and contain nearly 65% of your daily calcium requirement in only 2 Tbs!

I am not a big believer in eating things that don’t taste good, but the other day I made myself some refrigerator chia seed pudding and I was really surprised with how good it tasted! Here is what I did:

  1. Mix 1 Tsp Honey and 1 Tsp coconut sugar into 1 cup of milk (your choice – dairy, nut milk, whatever).
  2. Add crushed berries of your choice (I like blueberries the best but apples/apple sauce works pretty well too).
  3. Add chia seeds until they are covered by the milk by about a cm.
  4. Place in refrigerator for 4 hours – overnight!

To serve:

  1. Place pudding in a bowl (Heat if desired)
  2. Add fresh berries and a sprinkling of cinnamon (optional)


Top Misconceptions about our diet

1. We don’t use salt

False! We eat a low-sodium diet, not a NO sodium diet (which frankly, would be impossible as food naturally contains sodium). We simply keep careful track of how much salt we are adding to our food

2. Our meals are under-seasoned

Although Gordon Ramsay may have you think that salt is the only seasoning, it’s just not true. We use a LOT of fresh and dried herbs in our food as well as garlic, onion, lemongrass, ginger root, etc to add NATURAL seasoning to our food.


More meal and spice mix recipes coming soon šŸ™‚



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