Hold the Salt: Sodium Girl Shares Her Story

 In 2004 Jessica Goldman Foung received a diagnosis of lupus that would ultimately change her life, her diet, and her career path. Here’s how a low-sodium diet helped save Jessica’s life—and how she ultimately came to be known as Sodium Girl.

 

The Diagnosis

At the time, Jessica was a junior at Stanford University and had recently returned from studying abroad. One night she headed to the emergency room because her body was like a “swollen marshmallow man.” Worried it might be lymphoma, Jessica was initially relieved to hear that her diagnosis was “just lupus.”

She knew something wasn’t right, though. Not only did she have lupus, but the autoimmune disease was attacking her kidneys and brain, and doctors told her she was in complete renal failure.

Jessica spent most of the next three months at Stanford Hospital, where doctors worked to stabilize her condition. Using dialysis and forms of chemotherapy that had just been cleared for use for lupus, her condition eventually stabilized and her kidneys were “basically declared 100 percent gone,” she recalls. She would need a kidney transplant if she wanted to survive, and her father was a match and set to be her donor.

Fast forward about six months when she was preparing for the transplant ahead, and doctors realized her kidney function was actually increasing. In most cases, kidneys never regain function after dialysis, which makes Jessica’s story so extraordinary.

 

The Making of Sodium Girl

After college, Jessica worked in nonprofit development for five years while managing her lupus symptoms and also trying to live like a normal 20-something.

“It was extremely stressful and I was finding I didn’t even have time to get my medicine from the drug store,” she says. “My mom sat me down and said, ‘This isn’t going to work. Your body is going to give out. You can either live five years or 50 years. You have to figure out how to take care of yourself, how to get your drugs and stay in bed when you need to.”

It was time for Jessica to reassess her career goals. “I sat down and thought, ‘What can I do and what do I like to do? Write.’ People said to start by writing what I know.”

 

A Low-Sodium Life Saver

One thing Jessica knew well: that healthy eating and a low-sodium diet played an important role in her recovery.

“I think I took it more seriously than most people do. I got rid of all the processed food in my kitchen and starting making things from scratch,” she says.

What many people don’t realize is that table salt isn’t the leading source of sodium in most American’s diets. In fact, 75 percent of the sodium most people consume is hidden in processed food and restaurant food, according to the American Heart Association. “You can hit the [sodium] numbers recommended by the AHA and FDA just by getting rid of processed foods,” says Jessica, who is now 33 and lives in San Francisco, California with her husband, Alejandro and their 3-year-old daughter, Nomi.

 

Sodium Girl Launches

Jessica created the Sodium Girl blog as a way to showcase her writing chops and hopefully land writing gigs, while also sharing the health benefits of the clean, low-sodium way of eating she had made an integral part of her life. It turns out, publications she pitched to were more interested in her blog than other topics, and things took off from there.

“I was approaching sodium from an angle no one else was,” she says. “Everything else was mostly clinical and dry. They were being written by people who were either older or by registered dieticians or doctors who weren’t on the diet themselves. No one was coming it at it from a culinary angle.”

 

Growth of the Sodium Girl Brand

Since launching her blog, Jessica has written two books, Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook, which was published in February, 2013, and Low-So Good which will be released in April 2016. She appeared on the Doctor Oz show in November of 2014. After all the success she has seen, she’s still baffled that people are so surprised at how delicious a low-sodium diet can be.

“There is a solution to feeling better and it’s food, yet no one tries it because the marketing around [low-sodium diets] is so unappealing,” she says. “My mission is to rebrand it so it’s like paleo or vegan that earns peoples trust and interest. People will realize it’s just really good food we’re talking about when we talk about low-sodium diets.”

Jessica hears weekly from grateful readers who have felt lost and disheartened when told that they need to change their diets. “My goal is to change the way people see the diagnosis; it becomes about empowerment of what they have control over.”

 

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