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Frank Stevens
Special to L. A. Times
Los Angeles, CA

August, 2002


Sodium, a major component of table salt, baking powder, baking soda, soy sauce, cheeses and many packaged foods, easily qualifies as the most difficult of all diet ingredients to keep under control. It's not so much that you can simply quit adding salt to dishes — that is easily done — it's the fact that sodium is hidden in so many foods that it's difficult to get an accurate count of your daily sodium intake, much less hold the amount down.

And when too much sodium intake is a matter of life or death, the problem gets downright serious. This was the challenge facing Donald Gazzaniga of northern California. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, he was headed for the waiting list for a heart transplant — his only hope for survival. He was advised by his doctor to keep his sodium intake under 1500-2000 mg. per day. Gazzaniga had other ideas, however. He suggested that he could get well under that goal if the doctors thought it would help. "I told him that I always thought it would help, but that no one had ever succeeded in getting below 1500 mg a day," Dr. Michael Fowler of the Stanford University Heart Transplant Center said.

This is no easy feat when you realize that the average American consumes up to 10,000 mg. per day. But Gazzaniga was determined to meet the challenge. An amateur chef, he would not subscribe to the theory that salt was a necessary ingredient in cooking to enhance flavors and was practically indispensable. In Gazzaniga's case, there was no choice. Salt must be drastically reduced in his diet – or else.

Gazzaniga's goal was to get his salt intake down to a minuscule 500 mg. per day, an almost unheard of level and one which most experts deemed virtually impossible. And, he vowed to do it while still eating a tasty, broad-based diet. Thus began his odyssey which resulted in "The No Salt Lowest Sodium Cookbook," a compendium of literally hundreds of delicious recipes designed to combat heart failure and dangerous hypertension. With the help of his eldest daughter Jeannie Gazzaniga, a registered dietitian with a doctorate degree, he also built a 28 day meal planning guide, a guide that never exceeds the 500 mg target level and often provides as few as 285 mg a day.

Already Gazzaniga has received confirmation for his 28 day plan from visitors to his website at "Patients have written that after a year on the program they too have been removed from the heart transplant list. Improvement has seemed miraculous for them. I think we've helped here with a plan that really works and seems to me at least, a lot better than a transplant," Gazzaniga said. Gazzaniga should have added that his own heart has "remodeled" to a normal size, down from about as large as it could get. His EF (ejection fraction) climbed from 20% to 50%, a heretofore unheard of recovery.

Dr. Michael Fowler says, "The diet he designed for himself had a profound impact on his ability to survive and to improve so dramatically." Gazzaniga has not had to have a heart transplant and most likely never will.

Gazzaniga says, "I can't give the diet all the credit, but it, along with a wonderful group of doctors, well planned medication and vigorous daily exercise has played a major role in my survival — there's no question about it." When asked whether he used his own cookbook he responded emphatically, "Absolutely!"

"The No Salt Lowest Sodium Cookbook" by Donald A. Gazzaniga — loaded with 350 everyday recipes— is a must-read for persons with heart problems or hypertension. It is a welcome addition for anyone who is seriously interested in reducing salt levels while still preparing a variety of delicious recipes. The recipes are for a wide variety of familiar foods plus many gourmet and ethnic dishes as well. It must be noted here that Gazzaniga has another book in this series due out in Spring of 2003. It's to be titled, "The No Salt, Lowest Sodium Baking Book." It will contain 135 bread, muffin and cookie recipes.

Each book is published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. The cookbook is currently $15.95 for the softcover edition. It was released in January, 2001 as a hardcover and after three printings went into paperback. It and can be found at your favorite bookstore or at,, books on the Internet.