February is Heart Health Month. According to the American Heart Association, 90% of all people will develop hypertension in their lifetime which is a major risk factor for heart disease. If cardiovascular disease does not kill, the consequences of expensive medications and operations can certainly affect one’s quality of life. Traditionally thought of as an “old age” disease, heart disease is also becoming prevalent in younger populations. This trend coincides with soaring obesity and diabetes rates, two risk factors for heart disease. Other major risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, smoking, poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and hypertension.
Hypertension or high blood pressure (higher than 140/90 mm Hg) causes the heart to work harder. Over time, hypertension strains the heart and arteries leading to disease.
Hypertension is more common in blacks than whites, old age, and those with a family history. Some “controllable” risk factors include sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and eating too much salt.
In order to reduce or avoid hypertension the American Heart Association recommends reducing sodium intake to less than 1500 mg a day (much less than a teaspoon). Unfortunately, sodium is pervasive in our food supply. Much of the sodium we consume has been added to food when it is commercially processed. The top sources of sodium in the American diet are breads, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches. Most bread products are not very high in sodium per serving. However, given that we consume around three servings of grains per day, the totals add up. Therefore, label reading is an important skill when trying to reduce sodium intake. When reading labels, be vigilant for the words “soda”, “sodium”, and the symbol “Na.” Some sodium compounds besides salt (sodium chloride) to watch out for on food labels include: monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium nitrate, sodium sulfite, and sodium benzoate. Look for products that have 5% or less of the RDA for sodium per serving.
The OSU Factsheet Modifying a Recipe to Be Healthier offers some ways to cut back on sodium, but also fat, sugar and calories for better heart health. When preparing food, be “spicy” instead of “salty.” Be creative and adventurous! Use lemon juice, vinegar, and herbs and spices to enhance flavor. Many herb and spice containers will suggest what foods they will complement.
Some other tips for reducing sodium intake include:
- Look for low sodium grain and bread products.
- Eat more whole, unprocessed foods and less canned and convenience foods. Choose fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as much as possible.
- Avoid frozen vegetables with sauces as much as possible.
- Canned vegetables can be risned to lower sodium content.
- Limit condiments such as ketchup, mustard, horseradish, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and MSG, or use lower sodium versions.
- Limit cured foods such as bacon and foods packed in brine (pickled food).
- When eating out, ask that foods be prepared without added salt, MSG, or salt ingredients. Most restaurant dishes are extremely high in sodium.
- Explore nutrition apps on your smart phone or computer to make healthy choices when eating out and grocery shopping.
American Heart Association. Accessed on 1/21/2015 at http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/
Ohio State University Extension: Ohioline. Modifying a Recipe to Be Healthier. Accessed on 1/21/2016 at http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5543
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: App Reviews. Accessed on 12/21/2016 at http://www.eatrightpro.org/resources/media/trends-and-reviews/app-reviews
Author: Dan Remley, Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition, and Wellness Ohio State University Extension.
Reviewer: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Fairfield County, Ohio State University Extension.