One of the best ways to lower your sodium intake? Use less processed foods and reach for more homemade ingredients, like this easy tomato sauce. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

3 recipes to help you say adios to sodium

All week long we’re focusing on our five food resolutions of 2013, with lots of delicious recipes and tips on how to eat better this year. From posting yummy recipes incorporating whole grains to providing healthy protein alternatives to the usual chuletas and carnitas, NBC Latino is sharing how you can kick off 2013 in a healthy way.

No doubt you’ve heard it over and over: managing your sodium intake is very important to your health. If, like millions of Latinos, you happen to suffer from hypertension or heart disease, it’s not only important…it could save your life. And while most people think that means they have to stop reaching for the salt shaker, in fact most of our sodium intake today comes from processed foods, the canned as well as frozen kinds.

Consider this: a small can of tomato sauce (the kind used to make, say, a picadillo or a guisado) on average contains about 900 milligrams of sodium—more than half of the 1,500 milligram recommended daily intake for a person with heart disease. (A healthy person’s intake should be around 2400 milligrams, so the 900 still represents a good chunk of that.) A can of soup can contain nearly 1300 milligrams of sodium! And that healthy salad you’re topping with store-bought dressing? One tablespoon contains nearly 250 milligrams. While that doesn’t sound terrible,  when was the last time you used only one tablespoon to dress your salad?

Today, I’m sharing three recipes for homemade substitutions of processed foods used regularly in any kitchen: a tomato sauce that can replace the store-bought canned kind, courtesy of the great Chef Maricel Presilla, who says she makes these is vats at home; an easy soup-making technique you can apply to just about any vegetable; and simple homemade salad dressings that are as delicious as they are healthy.

Light tomato sauce (salsa de tomate ligera)

Homemade tomato sauce (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Homemade tomato sauce (Photo/Betty Cortina)


3 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

7 or 8 ripe medium plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored and quartered, or drained canned tomatoes

2 flat-leaf parsley sprigs

4 thyme sprigs or 1/8 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large (12-inch) skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until it ripples. Add the garlic and onion and sauté, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

2. Pass the sauce through a food mill. The food mill will render a smooth, seedless, full bodied sauce. Makes about 1 1/2 cup. (Keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.)

Calabaza soup with coconut

Hearty but still healthy, calabaza soup with coconut is the Hispanic diet's answer to butternut squash soup. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Hearty but still healthy, calabaza soup with coconut is the Hispanic diet’s answer to butternut squash soup. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

This calabaza with coconut soup demonstrates a technique  you can use with just about any vegetable (broccoli, asparagus, tomato, spinach, or even plátano.) Just  chop the vegetable of choice and sauté it with onion, carrots and celery. Add a low sodium liquid—chicken or vegetable stock, or as I did in this case, a light coconut milk—and cook until everything is tender. Puree and—voila—you have yourself a healthy, creamy concoction that stands up to anything canned and is infinitely healthier.  Click here for the recipe.

Avocado vinaigrette, Piquillo-garlic dressing & Yogurt, lime, cilantro dressing

Homemade dressings, like the above avocado vinaigrette, are easy and fast to make, and a healthy alternative to the store-bought bottled version.

Homemade dressings, like the above avocado vinaigrette, are easy and fast to make, and a healthy alternative to the store-bought bottled version. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Why undermine an otherwise healthy salad by dousing leafy greens and crunchy vegetables in saturated fats, high levels of salt and mystery ingredients like xantham gum? (Read a label for a salad dressing and you’ll see what I mean!) These homemade versions are based on a few simple principles: the use of extra virgin olive oil, considered a healthy fat that can help lower cholesterol; the use of tangy, plain low-fat yogurt instead of fatty mayonnaise to make things creamy; and the addition of flavorful herbs and ingredients to keep things flavorful—all of which means we’re packing it with tons of sabor and not a whole lot of salt. Click here for the recipes.

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