February is often associated with valentines, sweets and all things lovey dovey. It’s also Heart Month which makes it a great time to think about your own heart health and the health of those you love. For the next three weeks, we will be blogging about sodium, its role in heart health and how you can protect yourself and those you love.
Your body needs sodium to work properly, but too much is bad for your health. It can raise your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke. People often think of putting down the salt shaker when they are trying to reduce their sodium, but in fact most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and dishes from restaurants.
This week we are proud to share the American Heart Association’s campaign called “The Salty Six”. This infographic highlights some of the common foods where large amounts of sodium hide. Next week we’ll hear from an expert on heart disease and stroke and her recommendations for eating well while reducing sodium.
I wonder if it is coincidence that Valentine’s Day, National Heart Month, and National Wear Red Day are all in February. Probably not, but it would be great if the hype around Valentine’s Day reminded us to eat heart healthy. What is a better way to show your love than preparing healthy, delicious food for your family and friends? Here are a few facts:
- Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US even though we tend to hear more about cancer.
- We can’t change some of the risks factors for heart disease such a family history, gender, and age. However, many of the risk factors for heart disease are related to diet and physical activity which we can influence, they include: cholesterol level, high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, smoking and lack of physical activity.
The American Heart Association has a list of Tips for Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping that provides a good start for anyone one who wants to improve the quality of their diet. Their list highlights the types of fats and oils to choose and avoid as well as how to avoid excess sodium in the diet.
Perhaps you have already made changes in your diet. If you would like to check out your knowledge about sodium, fats and nutrition take their three nutrition quizzes:
Fats and Sodium Explorer- What are your daily calorie needs? Recommended range for total fats, limits for the “bad” fats: saturated and trans fats.
Test Your Sodium Smarts-Test your sodium smarts by answering 10 questions about which food products are higher in sodium.
Test Your Fats IQ– Do you know your fats by heart? Test just how knowledgeable you are.
Do you or someone you know have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease? It is very likely your answer is “yes”, given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. High blood pressure affects approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States and more than half of Americans with high blood pressure do not have it under control. Foods high in sodium are a big concern for managing blood pressure.
Sodium plays an important role in regulating fluid balance, nerve function and muscle contraction within the body. We need it, but most of us get too much. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most people take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon). However, about half of us should only consume 1500 mg or 2/3 teaspoon. The reduced recommendation is for the following people:
- African Americans
- Anyone over age 51
- Those diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease
The average American consumes almost twice the recommended amount. Too much sodium is not healthy, but have you ever wondered what the science is behind this? Here’s a quick science lesson!
When an excessive amount of sodium is consumed, there is an increased number of particles in the blood stream, water moves from the cells to the blood stream trying to create a fluid balance. This increased volume circulating in the blood stream increases pressure on artery walls and makes your heart work harder. High blood pressure is also called hypertension and it is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
How can you reduce the amount of sodium you consume daily?
- Don’t add salt to your food.
- Choose frozen or fresh vegetables as opposed to canned.
- Choose low-sodium or no salt added versions of canned products. Many are the same price as their higher sodium counterparts.
- Rinse canned vegetables and beans.
- Cook foods from scratch. Restaurant food and convenience meals tend to have more sodium than those you prepare yourself.
- Experiment with adding flavor to dishes by using dried herbs and spices such as basil, thyme, parsley or cayenne pepper instead of salt.
Have fun with it! If your new year’s resolution is to achieve a healthier lifestyle, reducing your sodium intake is an easy way to work toward that goal.