“The Silent Killer”
We have all heard that high blood pressure is “bad,” but few of us really know why. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. But just because it has no symptoms does not mean that it cannot pose significant health risks. High blood pressure, if left untreated, can lead to stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, memory loss, damage to the heart and coronary arteries, and more. The good news is that controlling you blood pressure is very possible! Studies show that reducing the sodium in your diet can lower blood pressure.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that most people consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day. That’s just one teaspoon of table salt a day. Keep in mind that 2,300 mg a day is a safe upper limit, not a recommended daily allowance. People with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure, should consume even less (generally around 1,500 mg per day). Given American’s love for fast food and packaged food, it’s probably no surprise that the average salt intake is 3,400 mg a day (48% more than the recommended daily limit).
Let me clear something up: although sea salt is sometimes marketed as “natural” or a “heathier alternative,” sea salt has the exact same amount of sodium by weight as table salt. Sea salt does have a stronger flavor, which means you should be able to use less of it to achieve the same taste, but once per ounce the sodium is the same.
So should I put down the salt shaker? Although avoiding salting your foods can help, almost 80% of the sodium in our diets doesn’t come from a salt shaker, according to the American Heart Association, it comes from processed and packaged foods. So watching the types of foods you consume is almost more important than avoiding salting your foods.
The following are some foods higher in sodium that may surprise you. Keep in mind when reading this list that foods that are considered “low sodium” have 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Vegetable Juice- One cup of vegetable juice cocktail has 479 mg sodium
Tip: Look for low sodium vegetables juices
Cereals- One cup of cereal can have up to 300 mg sodium
Tip: Try mixing half of a higher sodium cereal with half of a lower Na cereal
Soda (including diet soda)- A can of club soda contains 75 mg sodium
Tip: The key with soda is portion control. These only become “high” sodium when multiple are consumed
Breads and rolls- Each piece can have up to 230 mg sodium
Tip: Keep intake low and aim for lower sodium varieties
Cake Mixes- One serving of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Devil’s Food Cake has 380 mg sodium
Tip: Make your desserts from scratch to better control sodium
Boxed Rice Mix- One serving of Rice-a-Roni Rice Pilaf has 960 mg sodium
Tip: Stick with brown or wild rice and season it yourself using herbs and spices
Reduced sodium foods- One Tablespoon of Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce has 575 mg sodium
Tip: Remember that “reduced sodium” does not always mean “low sodium,” so keep your intake of these foods low
Sandwiches – consider the bread, cured meats, processed cheese and condiments, and sandwiches can easily surpass 1,500 mg sodium
Tip: Consider grilled meat versus processed meant and using avocado in place of condiments and/or cheese on your sandwiches
Flavored Coffee Drinks- Grande Caramelized Carmel Latte at Starbucks has 290 mg sodium
Tip: Stick to plain coffee with milk versus the flavored varieties
The best way to keep your sodium intake under check is to cook at home more versus eating out. Checking labels is the only way to know how much sodium is in your food. Also, remember that the amount of sodium listed on the ingredient label references a particular serving size. If you eat more than the listed serving size, you’ll consume more sodium.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a research based diet plan which has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure, possibly even as efficiently as medications! This diet is low in fat, high in fruits and vegetables (especially high potassium fruits and vegetables), and high in whole grains and healthy protein sources.
Worried your food won’t taste as good without sodium? Rest assured. Sodium is actually an acquired taste. So, if you gradually decrease your intake over time, your taste will adjust. Remember that natural substitutes such as herbs, spices, lemon, onion, etc are also great substitutes to add flavor to your foods without adding salt!