Maple Grove resident pours ‘heart’ into new book

Cook book written while awaiting heart transplant

Picture sitting in a hospital bed for months, surrounding by medical equipment.

Nurses coming in and out of the room. And waiting for a new heart. Imagine all of this happening and publishing a cookbook. That exactly what one Maple Grove resident has done.

Chris Lower launched his new book, “The Easy Low-Sodium Diet Plan and Cookbook,” July 18, which is also his birthday. He launched the book while “residing” at the U of M Hospital while awaiting a second heart transplant.

Maple Grove resident pours ‘heart’ into new book

LOW SODIUM JOURNEY

Lower began his low sodium journey back in 2002. He was on a business trip in 2002 and caught a flu-like virus. He ended up with an inflection that settled into the enzymes in the fluid that surrounds his heart, which caused the heart muscles to inflame and enlarge.

He was on medications, had a pacemaker, defibrillator, an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) and was placed on the transplant list.

“I used to a football player,” he said. “I knew how to protect my heart. I had to start a low sodium diet, which I started in 2002.”

He combined his life experience with his culinary, public relations, and digital marketing experience and launched his low sodium food blog entitled “Hacking Salt” in 2014.

In May 2014, he had a heart transplant. While in the hospital, his roommate had quadruple bypass surgery and was placed on a low sodium diet.

“The sad reality is that patients are often prescribed a low sodium diet and given little to no information or training on how to actually do that in their daily life,” Lower said.

He continued, “My roommate went through the hospital menu list. He was told no to everything he wanted to order except oatmeal. He cried thinking the only thing he could ever have was oatmeal.”

Lower looked at the menu and found his roommate could have certain items — a pull pork sandwich without the bun or cheese. “I created a pulled pork bowl for him to eat,” he said. “My roommate wanted me to come to his house and plan his meals for him. That is where the idea for the Hacking Salt blog came from.”

HACKING SALT BLOG

He said wanted to create a blog site to share tips, recipes, products and guidance.

“I just hacked the salt out of recipes,” Lower said. “I had to prove to myself that I could make my favorite dishes heart healthy and salt free.”

Maple Grove resident pours ‘heart’ into new book

He searched the internet for information, and came up with thousands of “healthy” recipes but they only focused on calories and fat but not reduced sodium.

His first recipe on the blog was for buffalo wings and ranch dressing. He said his blog gained in popularity.

“Dr. Oz magazine even used the buffalo wings and ranch dressing recipe in the magazine,” Lower said. “Later a publisher reached out to me after watching my blog for a while and asked if me if I wanted to do a cookbook.”

Lower’s blog talks about low sodium product options that can be found in grocery stores.

“I find the low sodium versions of foods and spices,” he said. “I test them out and put them on the blog when new ones come out.”

Lower also has a restaurant guide where people can find the low sodium options on the menu.

“You can get a plain hamburger and unsalted fries from McDonald’s,” he said of one low sodium option. “Plus the fries taste great without the salt.”

He added many people on low sodium diets won’t go out to eat. “I think people should be able to find at least one thing they can eat off a menu at any restaurant. Then they don’t have to tell their friends they can’t go out. We should be able to have regular lives and go out.”

Last year, Lower and his wife and children went to the Minnesota State Fair and created a low sodium guide for the blog. “Low sodium dieters can eat and have a good time at the fair.”

WRITING THE BOOK

The cookbook has been a passion project for Lower.

“I was blessed with a heart transplant and wanted to help others avoid heart problems,” he said. “We consume too much salt.”

He said about 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium. This increases their risk of high blood pressure. According to Lower, Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium each day, and the majority of sodium consumed is already present in foods before purchase or preparation.

Maple Grove resident pours ‘heart’ into new book

The USDA recommends that a completely healthy person should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association and The Mayo Clinic recommend no more than 1,500 mg per day of sodium for everyone with high blood pressure, a heart condition, everyone over the age of 50 and people of color.

“One teaspoon of salt equals 2,300 mg of sodium,” Lower said. “That’s not that much.”

He added that high blood pressure has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control. “About 75 million American adults (29 percent) have high blood pressure — that’s one in every three American adults,” Lower said. “Anyone, including children, can develop high blood pressure. It greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.”

Lower said salt is hidden in everything from bottled water, medications, toothpaste, vitamins to supplements, not just food.

He started writing his cookbook last October.

This January, Lower’s heart went into rejection. “In January got an urinary tract infection and got E. coli into my system,” Lower said. “It attacked my heart and damaged it. Now I need another heart.”

He was taken to the U of M Hospital and is awaiting another heart transplant. He will stay at the hospital until he gets a new heart.

He said, “I was in a coma for most of January. When I came out of coma, I completed the book.”

The cookbook offers advice, tips, 100 recipes and research for living a heart healthy lifestyle.

Lower is planning to write another cookbook. “I want to write a cookbook with a low sodium barbecue and grilling theme,” he said. “Guys don’t usually take good care of themselves. Much of the low sodium cooking comes from scratch and men like to barbecue. So, I’m coming up with recipes that men with like to do themselves on the grill or in the smoker.”

“It’s not true that low-sodium means foods has to taste like cardboard,” he added.

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