By Brooke Douglas, RD, CD
High blood pressure. The words don’t exactly strike fear into most American’s hearts. After all, it’s not painful, like cancer. It doesn’t sound deadly, like heart disease. But it’s literally a time bomb in our blood vessels that threatens our heart, brain and kidneys. Make no mistake – it’s a killer! So what makes our blood pressure rise? Too much salt, extra body weight and spending too much of your time sedentary. But wait! Don’t blame it all on the salt shaker. Only 7% of the excess salt in the average American’s diet comes from the salt shaker. The remaining 93% comes from all the processed and convenience foods we buy at the vending machine, at the local corner store, at the grocery store (for quick dinners) and at fast food and dine-in restaurants.
If your doctor has told you to cut back on your salt intake…you will have to do more than put the salt shaker away.
As for extra body weight (lose weight) and inactivity (begin a modest exercise program and spend less of your day sedentary), applying the following tips may help you on your quest to lower your blood pressure.
Here are some sodium-cutting tips you can try today:
Introduce additional flavor to your foods with herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, basil, pepper, thyme and sesame. These all add flavor without the extra sodium. If a recipe calls for salt, cut the amount called for in half and taste it before adding more.
Make healthy choices at the grocery store. Processed foods (anything in a box or bag) tend to be high in sodium because it helps preserve foods longer and increase flavor. Always read labels for the foods you buy, including the sodium content on the nutrition facts label and the ingredients list.
Remember that “low-fat” or “low-calorie” doesn’t mean healthy. These diet foods can also be higher in sodium because manufacturers hope that added sodium, a flavor-enhancer, will bring back the flavor that is missing since fat and other higher-calorie ingredients are removed. This is especially true for frozen dinners, which are often loaded with extra salt.
Choose low-, no- or reduced-sodium versions of your favorite soups, frozen meals, canned foods, and snacks. Even butter is available without added salt!
Choose fresh or frozen veggies over canned varieties, which often contain added salt to help increase shelf life. If you can’t find sodium-free varieties of canned vegetables, rinse the can’s contents in a colander under water before cooking to remove excess salt.
Olives, pickles and other items packed in brine are saturated in salt, as are many smoked and cured meats, like salami and bologna. Limit your intake of these high-sodium foods and be on the lookout for lower-sodium varieties.
Fast foods are high in more things than just fat. Many of these meals, sandwiches and fries contain more than your daily recommended intake of sodium in just one serving. When consulting restaurant websites to make healthy choices, pay attention to sodium levels as well. By keeping your portions in check (order a junior burger or small French fry instead of the big burgers and super fries) will help control your sodium (and caloric) intake.
Thanks much to Brooke for returning as our first-of-the-month guest contributor. She does a great job with nutrition advice, so if you are concerned about your or a loved one’s blood pressure give her a call. Did you know that your insurance might cover several visits with a Registered Dietitian? Let Brooke help you navigate the insurance maze to determine whether your insurance will pay for you to having some nutrition coaching with a Registered Dietitian. You can find her at Nutrition Authority.
You may also enjoy this CDC widget: