Interviews / May 16, 2013

Sodium Girl: Jessica Goldman Foung

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Diet Detective: Hey Jessica, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. My first question is really curiosity – I would love to know what prompted your interest in creating a food blog focused on low /no sodium foods? 

Sodium Girl: Just days after my twenty-first birthday, I landed in the hospital with an aggressive case of Lupus, an autoimmune disease that was attacking my brain and kidneys. Fast forward three months, and after amazing medical care and support from family and friends, I survived. My kidneys, however, did not. And from that point forward, I vowed to do everything I could with my own two hands, on top of great doctors and treatments, to keep myself healthy and strong – that meant taking on a low-sodium diet. But as a stubborn twenty-something, I was equally resolute to not miss out on anything life had to offer – which meant spontaneous adventures, fun with friends, and good food.  So I decided to rewrite the “low-sodium” rules and show others that, with creativity, a limited low-sodium diet could feel totally limitless.

Diet Detective: What is your “eating” philosophy and why?

Sodium Girl: Successful low-so food is just slow-food with the letters mixed around. It is about using fresh ingredients, spending time in the kitchen, and welcoming others to your table. It is about understanding the spice, sour, salty, and umami flavors that naturally exist in meat and produce and using them to create mouth-watering dishes. It is about not apologizing for salt free food but being damn proud of it. Because I believe that when you lose an ingredient, it doesn’t mean losing good food. It means new opportunities for creating great food, cooking with whimsy, and giving classic dishes a new twists.

Diet Detective: What was your health “aha moment?”

Sodium Girl: I have to start by saying this: everybody and every body is different. I happen to be very salt sensitive. And I have been off of dialysis and kicked off the transplant list for almost a decade, staying strong and well with the help of medication, diet, and a healthy lifestyle. Was it the diet? Was it youth? Was it a medical miracle? I’ll never know. But what is clear is that my diet gave me control in my otherwise uncontrollable disease. And food is such a simple and  powerful healer – which surprisingly people don’t take advantage of for fear of lowing routine, good food, and the social aspect of eating. This is why we have to change the way we talk about low-sodium food. We must focus not on the losses but all of the delicious gains. And show people that, they can take healthcare into their own two hands.

Diet Detective: What’s the best way for a person to stick with a low-sodium diet considering all the hidden sodium?

Sodium Girl: Education is key! Because the more you know, the easier navigating a low-sodium diet will be. It is important to understand not only where hidden sodium is but also where it isn’t. Spend time in grocery stores, be a detective, and start turning those packages around. You’ll be surprised to find many items with no-salt-added.

But it isn’t just about knowing which cans and packages to avoid and which to buy. It is also about knowing how food is cooked. On one hand, understanding that restaurants often blanche vegetables in salted water and that words like brined, cured, and breaded often mean there is salt involved will help you order well when you eat out. Similarly, reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, and perusing food magazines will also teach you about new cooking techniques and ingredients that add spice, texture, and flavor to your low-sodium cooking adventures at home! So start Googling. Get lost in grocery stores. Take cookbooks to bed. Because the more knowledge you have, the better you will eat.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite low sodium recipe? Can you share it with us please?

Sodium Girl: I think my favorite recipe is my Classic Bloody Mary in my new cookbook, Sodium Girl’s LImitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. My ultimate goal is to change the way people talk about low-sodium food and prove that, by using the right ingredients, you can not only makeover any salty favorite but also make a better version.

This particular dish/drink uses the natural sodium in beets (and its luscious sweetness) to make a healthy, lower-sodium bloody base. And because it is not muddled by so much salt, all the other classic flavors — horseradish, tomato puree, cayenne, lemon, and lots of freshly ground black pepper – shine as well. It makes a great start to a weekend, a wonderful recipe for those just beginning a low-sodium diet, and drink you’ll be proud to share with friends!


Bloodies are usually made with prepared vegetable juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, pepper, and lemon. Bottled low-sodium tomato and vegetable juice can run as high as 170mg of sodium per cup, and Tabasco and

Worcestershire can add another 200mg to the total with just a few dashes of each. But it is entirely possible to create the same tastes without these products. By using fresh or even prepared tomato puree, fresh or prepared horseradish, some homemade veggie juice, and spices, you can create a Bloody mix that doesn’t miss the mark. Actually, you’ll be able to taste the individual ingredients, the pucker and the spice, better than in the drinks made with those salted mixes.

And while using a juicer makes prep much easier, it isn’t necessary to go out and buy one. You can get silky-smooth juice by blending your vegetables and running them through a strainer or cheesecloth. Also, don’t be afraid to be creative with your presentation. The preparation below is classic. But if you have salt-free pickled grapes, cherry tomatoes, or green beans lying around, throw them in, for heaven’s sake. And instead of rimming the glasses with salt, spackle the tops with a blend of freshly ground black pepper, paprika, and lemon zest for color and extra spice.

Makes 10 cups Bloody Mary

4 large celery stalks, with extra stems for garnish

2 small red beets, trimmed and peeled

11⁄2 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

4 cups no-salt-added tomato puree 1 (24-ounce jar has a little more than 3 cups, so you can always fill the jar with 1 cup water and shake to loosen the

leftover tomato puree to make 4 cups)

1 to 2 teaspoons prepared low-sodium horseradish

1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 lemons

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Ice, for garnish

+ If you are using a juicer, juice the celery, beets, and bell pepper. Place the liquid into a pitcher or large mixing bowl and add the tomato puree.

+ If you are using a blender, put the celery, beets, bell pepper, and tomato puree into a blender. Pulse until you have a vegetable smoothie. Then make a sturdy pouch out of some folded cheesecloth and, over a pitcher or a large bowl, carefully pour the blended veggies into it. Gather the cheesecloth at the top to close and then squeeze. Really squeeze, many times, until all the juice runs out of the cheesecloth and all you have left inside is dry veggie pulp. If you don’t have cheesecloth, you can also pour the veggie smoothie into a fi ne-mesh sieve and use a wooden spoon or the bottom of a ladle to press down on the puree, squeezing the juice through until you have strained every bit into the pitcher or bowl. Set all your vegetable scraps aside.

+ Now that you have your vegetable juice, add 1 teaspoon of the horseradish, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, the smoked paprika, cayenne, juice of 1 lemon, and vinegar to the pitcher or bowl. Whisk together and taste, adjusting the spices (oh hello, horseradish and pepper) according to your cocktail preferences. I like mine spicy!

+ Place the Bloody Mary mixture in the refrigerator to chill, 15 minutes minimum or 2 hours maximum.

Diet Detective: What is your all-time favorite healthy sodium-free snack?

Sodium Girl: I am obsessed with Greek yogurt at the moment. I love it for breakfast; as a base for Ranch-like dips; as a spread for my afternoon rice cracker with a little cayenne; as a substitute for buttermilk in baking and fried chicken; as a topping for soups, salads, and tacos…I mean, the options are seriously endless. It is such a versatile ingredient and with only 60mg per 6oz (depending on brand), it is a great low-sodium choice for snacking, cooking, and baking.

Diet Detective: What’s always in your fridge?

Sodium Girl: I try to always have fresh herbs, eggs, and lots of greens (kale, collards, chard) in my fride. These are my cooking staples. And even if I only have time or energy for a quick meal, I know I can make a simple frittata or a healthy rice bowl (topped with sautéed veggies and a fried egg) that will please my palate and fill my belly.

Diet Detective: Your typical breakfast?

Sodium Girl: I am really into making overnight chia and fruit parfaits. I am also a sucker for a fresh avocado smeared on top of a toasted corn tortilla or rice cracker. And in case I am in a rush, I am a big fan of 18 Rabbits granola bars.

Diet Detective: Your favorite junk food?

Sodium Girl: I LOVE FRENCH FRIES. And I’m proud of it. Everyone has to have their comfort snack and French fries are mine. Thank you very much. Plus, they are surprisingly easy to order salt-free when eating out. You just have to make sure they are fresh cut fries and not frozen from a bag (which usually are pre-seasoned and salted).  They are also super easy to make at home. So what’s not to love about a French fry?

Diet Detective: What would you choose for your last meal?

Sodium Girl: I would want a bottomless bowl of Chinese breakfast porridge (Jook) with lots of chicken, fried garlic, green onions, cabbage, and tofu skins. And just because this is my last meal, I’d also like some smoked duck on top to be decadent. Did I mention that I’d like it to be bottomless?

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?

Sodium Girl: I can’t say enough about collard greens. They make a perfect side dish with just a little sesame oil and a quick fry in the pan. You can use the raw leaves in place high-sodium lavash bread to make an awesome sandwich wrap. You can cut them into thin, noodle like ribbons and use them for pasta-less pasta or stir fry. You can even blend it into a pesto. See what I’m saying? Collard greens are the new sliced bread. And because they are such sturdy greens, they’ll last you through the week!

Diet Detective: What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?

Sodium Girl: Don’t tell my immersion blender, but I have to say it is my rice cooker that I can’t live without. It’s like having a permanent sous-chef in my kitchen that can make part of the meal while I fix the rest. Which is essential on nights when there is limited time or energy.

Can you please ONLY provide two (2) to five (5) WORDS on the following ( I know that’s hard, but you can do it…)

Diet Detective: Organic foods?

Sodium Girl: Local and pesticide-free for me.

Diet Detective: Antioxidants?

Sodium Girl: I take chocolate “pills” daily.

Diet Detective: Artificial sweeteners?

Sodium Girl: My bad habit.

Diet Detective: Cooking sprays (e.g. Pam)?

Sodium Girl: Rather smear oil with hands.

Diet Detective: Food Additives and Preservatives?

Sodium Girl: Not adding to or preserving health.

Diet Detective: Nutritional Supplements?

Sodium Girl: I get mine from food.

Fact Sheet

Your Website:

Location? San Francisco

Your current location….right now: Coffee shop in Palo Alto.

What is your current job title? Author, Blogger, Health Warrior

Education: BA Stanford University (go Card), English and Creative Writing

Résumé (brief): After Lupus caused her kidneys to fail, Jessica Goldman Foung refocused her life and work to study food, health, and the many ways they interact. Her blog, SodiumGirl, was nominated as one of Saveur’s “Best Food Blogs” in 2012 and Jessica serves as a low-sodium expert for the San Francisco Chronicle, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Shape, Living Without, and She currently partners with the National Kidney Foundation, American Heart Association, and Whole Foods Market on consumer education and recipe creation. She writes regularly for Huffington Post Living and Edible San Francisco. And is currently teaching writing courses through the Stanford Continuing Studies program.

Hometown: Palo Alto

Favorite Healthy Food Websites:

A lot of my cooking inspiration comes from:

101 Cookbooks, 5 Second Rule, White on Rice Couple, and new favorite, Thug Kitchen

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