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I Say Tomato

There is nothing like a ripe, juicy, vine ripened tomato. If you have a local farmers market, check them out right now, and stock up on these beauties while they are at their flavor peak. Tomatoes are a great, fresh, healthy, low calorie way to get all the potassium you need, and more.

Look for locally grown or farmers market varieties that have been grown for flavor, and not so they transport well. This time of year, put tomatoes in, and on, everything, while their sweet flavor is in tune with the seasons.

Tomatoes are a high-potassium food. Many of the patients I work with at Northwest Kidney Centers have to be very careful not to eat more than half a cup (about three slices) in a day. For those of us with healthy kidneys, all that potassium is a great thing. Pile those tomato slices on sandwiches and salads. Make homemade sauces, fresh salsa, homemade catsup and bruschetta out of them.

We think a high-potassium diet helps control blood pressure. Food manufacturers have picked up on this. However, instead of trying to get customers to eat more fruits and veggies, they instead have added potassium chloride to prepared foods. Potassium chloride is a granular white powder, much like salt, but instead replaces the unhealthy sodium with potassium.

While it may sound like that would be a good substitute, processed food is still processed. Such foods generally are lower in fiber, lower in anti-oxidants, have synthetic vitamins added (because they have been removed in processing), and are generally higher in sugar and refined carbs. Check food labels. Don’t be surprised to find potassium chloride added to breakfast cereal, cans of organic healthy soup, or many foods labeled “low sodium.” While the addition of potassium chloride to food may be one way to add potassium to a diet, it may also come with the negative side effects that come with many processed foods.

Fresh is always best. Head for the veggie patch or the farmers market. Best of all, these recipes don’t take any cooking, just chopping, which is another signal you are eating healthy “whole foods.”

Heirloom Tomato Feta Salad

5-6 heirloom tomatoes, different varieties, cut in wedges. Cut cherry tomatoes in half
1 green pepper, sliced thinly
¼ purple onion, sliced thinly
1-1/2 cucumbers, sliced thickly and cubed, or cut in half
4 ounces feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced in thin strips
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup white or clear balsamic vinegar
Black pepper, to taste

Cut tomatoes in bite-size wedges, put in large flat bowl, and add cucumber, peppers, onion, feta, and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Grind fresh black pepper over the top, toss. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature for flavors to develop. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 214, Carbohydrates: 17 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Sodium: 97 milligrams

Fall Bruschetta

5-6 ripe tomatoes, variety of colors and sizes
¼ cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced in thin strips
Black pepper, to taste
French bread

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Slice French bread, brush slices with light coating of olive oil and toast about 5 minutes, watching carefully. Meanwhile, dice tomatoes. If you like a thicker, less seedy bruschetta, you can put the tomatoes in boiling water, remove the skins, squeeze out the seeds and dice the pulp, but I prefer to keep that lovely sweet tomato essence I am aiming for. Mix tomatoes with remaining olive oil, adding more if needed. Add balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil. Grind fresh black pepper over the top, stir and serve. Let your guests put the bruschetta topping on their toast themselves to keep the bread from getting soggy.

Nutritional Information (serving size: 1 ounce):
Calories: 44, Carbohydrates: 1 gram, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 1 milligram

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.


Contributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. A recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.

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