Healthy Habits Hero: Jessica Goldman Foung

Find creative ways to season with less sodium—without sacrificing flavor.
Kate Meyers

"I was one of those people who would salt a dish before even tasting it," Jessica Goldman Foung confesses. That changed, however, at age 21, when she was hospitalized after an aggressive form of the autoimmune disease lupus attacked her kidneys and brain. Foung underwent three months of intense treatment, including chemotherapy and dialysis. "I survived, but my kidneys did not," she says.

She was placed on a transplant list and had to undergo regular dialysis. "I decided I was going to do whatever my doctors told me to stay healthy and strong," she says. That included following the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it encourages you to eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce the sodium in your diet to lower your blood pressure naturally.

"A lot of the literature was based on what you couldn't do and what you couldn't eat. That just wasn't very inspiring," she says. "I wanted to make it work for my lifestyle, so I started focusing on how to turn every no into a yes." She also started a blog where she shared her recipes, her tips, and her story.

Almost 10 years later, at age 30, Foung is off the transplant list without having had a transplant. It seems, in part, that her changed eating habits helped her kidneys recover. She doesn't add salt to her food; she eats only naturally occurring sodium, and she's made cooking her passion and her profession. "I discovered that eating was so much more than just sustenance," she says. "Something that could have been so limiting turned into something that was really exciting. I eat better than I ever did in my entire life."

Jessica's Top 5 Tips for Cutting the Salt, Not the Flavor

  • Surprise Your Palate: "Tasting something new will automatically excite you: I recently tried bison in Cooking Light's Bison Chili with Chickpeas and Acorn Squash. I think that's the sort of recipe people relate to—classic dishes that are somehow elevated with interesting ingredients, like the bison. Or find a spice you've never used before and then experiment. "
  • Rethink Condiments: "I love rice wine, apple cider, and balsamic vinegars. I have an avocado oil that I dress dishes with. Throwing some sesame oil on steamed vegetables is a showstopper. Tamarind paste is a great replacement for miso, which is incredibly high in sodium."
  • Try a New Approach: "Create flavor with your oven, slow cooker, or grill. Cooking enhances flavor—that's why roasted tomatoes are so delicious. With the slow cooker, the more time ingredients have to marry, the stronger the flavor. Grilling imparts a nice, smoky taste."
  • Shake on Celery Seed: "Sodium occurs naturally in some foods—celery seed is a great example. It has no added salt, but it tastes very salty because celery is relatively high in natural sodium (80mg in 1 diced cup)." Yet celery seed has only 3mg sodium per teaspoon. Compare that to table salt, which has 2,325mg per teaspoon.
  • Stock Your Purse: "I always carry spice blends like Mrs. Dash with me, especially when I'm traveling, because if the only thing I can get is some vegetables, a plain steak, a plain piece of fish, or scrambled eggs, then I have something I can use to doctor up my meals, and I know I'm never going to be dissatisfied."

Try Jessica's recipe for Quick Quinoa Meatballs, and check out Jessica's cookbook, Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook.