Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range (less than 120/80) is important for keeping your heart and kidneys healthy. But what is one key thing to do in order to achieve this? You can reach that healthy range by keeping an eye on your sodium or salt intake. When you eat foods with too much salt or sodium, you retain fluid, which makes your heart work harder.
Everyone, including your heart, wants to work smarter not harder.
Current healthy guidelines are to keep your sodium intake between 1500 to 2300 mg of sodium daily. That’s 2/3-1 teaspoon of salt a day.
So, right about now you might be saying, “I don’t salt my food so I don’t ingest too much sodium.” Most people have heard and taken to heart the message of not adding salt at the table. The bad news is more than 75 percent of the salt you eat at meals is already in the food you eat; it doesn’t come from the salt shaker. How can that be?
Americans eat a lot of processed foods, which is why it’s important to read the nutrition facts label. Compare brands and choose ones where the percentage of daily value from salt is ideally around 5 percent. The higher the percentage, the saltier the item. Also, keep an eye out for cheese, bread (it adds up if you eat a lot of bread throughout the day) and poultry products.
Want some good news? Small changes in your lifestyle, when practiced consistently over time, can help you manage your blood pressure more easily. To lower and maintain your rates, try some of these tips:
- Give your food a flavor boost from fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, oregano and rosemary and spices like chili, turmeric, and cinnamon instead of salt.
- Saute minced garlic and chopped onions for a flavorful base to many dishes like soups and casseroles, while getting the added benefit of allicin, a compound which can help lower cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
- Rinse and drain canned beans and veggies before using them. Doing so reduces the sodium content by 40 percent.
- Cook at home as much as possible using colorful vegetables; whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley; seafood such as salmon and trout; low-fat dairy (skim or 1 percent) and heart-healthy fats like avocado, unsalted nuts and seeds and oils such as olive, flaxseed, and sunflower.
- Don’t switch to sea salt thinking it has less sodium than table salt. Sea salt has boomed in popularity among food aficionados, but it usually isn’t any less salty. Just like table salt, it contains 40 percent sodium.
- Many sauces and seasons have high levels of sodium, including ketchup, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, meat tenderizer and bouillon cubes. Try the no-salt or low-salt options.
- One unusual place to look for sodium is in your over-the-counter medications such as antacids and some cough medicines, which include sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate. Medicines such as Advil, Motrin, and Aleve have sodium as an ingredient.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the task of being a sodium detective. You can start with small, easy-to-manage salt smart tips. Go through your cabinets and food pantry and take out anything with high levels of sodium.
Plan your salt-smart meals and make a grocery list. Start trading out high-salt snacks with fruit.
Eventually, as you reduce your sodium intake, your heart won’t have to work as hard, your blood pressure will decrease and your risk of stroke decreases as well.
Here are some good resources for information as well: