Shaking the Salt Habit
Is your blood pressure out of control? Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a health issue for over 50 million Americans. Diet plays a big part in the onset and progression of high blood pressure, but the good news is that there are some really positive diet changes that you can make that can have a great impact upon this deadly disease.
Recent diet studies, such as the DASH diet study, have established that blood pressure is lowered when sodium (salt or sodium chloride) is reduced in the diet. Most people will benefit by reducing salt in their diets: the positive blood pressure lowering effect of reducing salt or sodium in the diet effects both men and women and all the ethnic groups in these studies.
Do you know what your blood pressure is? An optimal blood pressure has been identified as a systolic of less than 120 (in mm Hg) and diastolic less then 80 (in mm Hg), typically written as 120/80. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is identified as a systolic of 140 or greater OR a diastolic of 90 or greater.
Remember from earlier newsletters that being overweight is a definite risk for high blood pressure, but the good news is that losing the first 10-15 pounds has the greatest effect upon risk factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol.
Losing weight and shaking the salt habit is a very smart move!
A Sea of Salt
A typical person who is not watching their salt intake consumes about 5,000 mg/day. That's about 2 teaspoons of salt per day, and is about twice what is considered healthy! Of course, most people aren't shaking that much salt on their food – about half of it is already in the foods we eat. Here's where it gets tough. It's a pretty safe bet that if you eat in restaurants or eat packaged foods that you're getting way more sodium than is needed, without adding any at the table! It's pretty hard to get the sodium of restaurant and fast food meals – it's out of your control, but there is quite a bit that can be done with convenience foods purchased at the grocery store.
Here are some shopping tips you can use to help you lower your sodium
- Take the time to read labels of convenience or packaged meals that you buy regularly for salt content. Remember that a reasonable goal is to keep your total sodium intake to less than 3,000 mg/day, (lower for some people depending upon health issues).
- Convenience meals (like frozen dinners) often contain HUGE amounts of sodium in a single serving. Many of them of over 800 mg in a single serving! This is similar to the sodium content of a fast food hamburger – both are poor choices when it comes to sodium. Look for frozen dinners that have a lower sodium content, closer to 500-600 mg or less.
- Instead of buying completely prepared dinners, try making meals from box mixes that have seasoning packets that you have to add – that's where a lot of the sodium is. Instead of adding the entire seasoning packet, add half. This is one easy way to continue to enjoy the convenience of these meals without all the salt!
- When you cook with recipes that require condensed canned soup, but the "healthy" versions that contain less salt. Add a little salt yourself if you have to, but you'll still be better off by starting with the no salt or reduced salt version of these very salty products.
Reducing salt, along with eating foods that are high in potassium, magnesium (like fresh fruits and vegetables) and calcium can really have a positive impact on those blood pressure numbers and unlike blood pressure medication, there are no side effects!