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Big and Bold Without the Salt

Food Network's Chef Aaron McCargo goes easy on the kidneys

BHM Edit Staff | 8/26/2013, 6 a.m.
Chef Aaron McCargo's Sauce-less BBQ Baby Back Ribs Food Network

Kidney disease, a condition in which the kidneys are damaged and can no longer filter blood properly, affects 26 million Americans. According to a new report from the National Kidney Foundation, more than half of all Americans are at risk of developing some form of kidney disease in their lifetime. End-stage kidney disease requires dialysis or a kidney transplant. The average American has a one in eight chance of suffering from the ailment. For African Americans, that number soars to one out of every three people.

This isn’t an entirely unexpected statistic given that diabetes and high blood pressure, the leading causes of kidney disease, both run rampant in the black community. Lupus, another condition that can cause kidney disease, is also more common among African Americans. More than 81,00 people in this country are on the kidney transplant waiting list, with only 18,000 transplants performed each year.

Teaming Up for Change

That’s why it wasn’t a stretch for Food Network’s Chef Aaron McCargo Jr. to help whip up healthy, yet tasty recipes when Fresenius Medical Care North America, a network of dialysis facilities that provides renal services throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, approached him to be part of their kidney-friendly initiative.

“I have a close family member with kidney failure, and a lot of friends dealing with hypertension and diabetes, which lead to kidney failure,” the “Big Daddy’s House” star says.

McCargo and a team of dietitians sat down with people who have kidney disease. “We heard the voices of the patients. They were telling us, ‘We’re frustrated. We’re limited in our diet. We don’t know what to cook,’” McCargo says. “We asked them what they crave, and came up with recipes that are great tasting and affordable.”

McCargo’s Top Tips for a Kidney-Friendly Diet

  1. Read the recipe first to make sure it’s something you can do.
  2. Write down the ingredients “so you don’t come home with everything but what you need,” McCargo says. “If I don’t make my grocery list and stick to it, I’ll go buck wild. I’ll go in the store for kale and asparagus and come out with bags of Doritos.”
  3. Keep it simple. “We tend to want to add Tabasco or barbeque sauce on everything,” he says. “Don’t deviate from the recipe. After the first time or two, you can add your flair.”

What made the chef’s kidney-friendly menu? Lots of unexpected things, such as glazed pork chops, meatballs, shrimp scampi, taco pizza and baby back ribs (recipe below)—all delicious items with the big, bold flavor for which McCargo is known. “We used dry rubs and fresher spices. We eliminated salt and things they can’t have in their diet. It’s amazing the response we get from folks,” he says. “‘There’s no salt in this? There’s no fat? How’d you make these wings crispy?’”

Perhaps the best thing about these recipes: The dietitian-approved meals are good for everybody. “You don’t have to be on dialysis to eat these,” McCargo says.

Chef McCargo's Sauce-less BBQ Baby Back Ribs