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Los Angeles - September, 2001
Frank Stevens - Reporter
September, 2001


"Sodium was killing me," Chef and author Donald A. Gazzaniga, explained when asked about his No-Salt, Lowest Sodium Cookbook. "Doctors gave me a short time to live with the possibility of a heart transplant looming in the near future. Fortunately I didn't have to go down that road."

Sodium, a major component of table salt, baking powder, baking soda, soy sauce, cheeses and many packaged foods, as well as fast 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, (dilated cardiomyopathy) and with chronic atrial fibrillation, he was headed for the waiting list for a heart transplant. "His good fortune," explained Dr. Michael Fowler, director of the Stanford Heart Transplant Clinic, "was that instead of being listed for a transplant, he set a new pattern for patients. He avoided the list and he rebuilt his heart."

Fowler has believed for years that a much lowered sodium diet could extend the lives and bring about a much better lifestyle for many heart disease patients, "If only they would adopt a low sodium diet and stick to it."

"Gazzaniga is the first to my knowledge to adopt a diet that contains fewer than 500 milligrams a day of sodium. That's less than a quarter teaspoon of salt which can be likened to a hamburger bun."

At the outset, Gazzaniga was advised by his doctors 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 8000 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. In Gazzaniga's case, there was no choice. Salt and sodium had to be drastically reduced in his diet -- or else.

Gazzaniga's goal was to get his sodium intake down to a minuscule 500 mg. per day, an almost unheard of level and one which most experts deemed virtually impossible. He vowed to do it while still eating a tasty, broad-based diet. Thus began his odyssey which resulted in what has become the first in a series of no-salt books, "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 for his book, a guide that never exceeds the daily 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 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.

Fowler concurs. After Gazzaniga's recent checkup, Dr. Fowler informed him that he had sent most of his patients to to get recipes and to buy the book. "Those who got on the program all came back feeling much better and actually improving just like Gazzaniga did. Remember, Gazzaniga's heart had ballooned in size, making it difficult for it to beat. Now it is normal size and his ejection fraction has returned to near normal. Unheard of. We have testimony that others around the world have improved and many have been removed from the transplant list. Now, that's something to crow about."

Fowler continued, "The diet he designed for himself...had a profound impact on his ability to survive."

Gazzaniga's own brother, a retired heart surgeon in Irvine, California, who earned his own world fame as an infant thoracic surgeon stated, ""Don is setting a new standard for low sodium diets. Sodium intake may have as much to do with cardiovascular disease as does cholesterol or smoking. "

"The No Salt Lowest Sodium Cookbook" by Donald A. Gazzaniga -- loaded with 350 everyday recipes -- is a must-read for patients with heart problems or hypertension. It is a welcome addition also for kidney, liver, Meniere's Syndrome patients, and others who are 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.

The book is published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press at $24.95 for the hardcover edition. It was released in January, 2001 and can be found at your favorite bookstore or at,, books on the Internet. If you purchase it through, $1 of each book will be donated to heart transplant research.