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How to Eat: Minimize Sodium Intake

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In the first two articles in our How to Eat series, we focused on healthy eating principles that can give us a foundation for eating well. By choosing clean eating and increasing your vegetable intake, you are automatically eating better. Today, we are going to talk about salt, and how minimizing salt in your diet is another way to achieve improved health. For some, refraining from sugar is painful, while for those whose taste buds prefer savory foods, salt is the hard thing to hold back from in meals.

However, hypertension and heart disease are top health issues in North America, and high-sodium foods are a major contributor. Consuming a high amount of salt in your daily diet will cause a rise in blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease. High blood pressure means less blood is getting through the arteries to the heart, and this can result in a heart condition called angina. People with angina do not receive adequate oxygen to the heart, and as the arteries worsen and deprived heart cells die, the chances of a heart attack become more likely. Just as dietary and lifestyle choices can lead to heart problems, they can also be part of the solution. Changing your lifestyle, how you eat, and taking doctor-prescribed medication like Vasotec will bring improvement to your heart condition and overall health.

Even if you do not suffer from a heart condition, keeping a diet that encourages healthy blood pressure is paramount to preventing damage to arteries and to the heart.

1. To keep it simple, keep it at the absolute minimum. If you want to know the maximum, the general recommended amount is 6g of salt for adults per day. That’s about 1 teaspoon, for healthy adults with normal blood pressure. Adults who are over 50 or have hypertension should not exceed 1,500 mg of sodium a day, unless otherwise directed by their doctor. Now that you know the official numbers, you can skip the stress of counting numbers by just buying and eating food with no salt or reduced salt. In general, it is easier to just maintain a lifestyle where you are consistently eating with the least amount of salt. If it’s hard to make an immediate drastic change, just gradually lower your salt intake so your taste buds, body and habits can adjust. This will help you keep it up long term.

2. Re-learn how to grocery shop and cook. To change what’s going into your body, change what’s in your kitchen. People who have an overly high salt intake are not getting their excess salt from adding table salt to their cooking and home meals. The high majority of our daily salt intake is from the processed foods we eat. Learn to read the ingredient table on the food package labels. When you are making up your grocery list, or at the supermarket filling up your shopping cart, make sure the majority of your purchase items are naturally low sodium choices like vegetables, beans and fruits. Choose lean meat instead of processed meats or prepackaged foods which contain higher sodium levels and preservatives. When cooking, prepare your meals by grilling, steaming or broiling for healthier and low-sodium results.

dec12-23. Add flavor in other ways. Depending on the extremity of your condition, you can vary your salt intake. If your doctor strongly suggests keeping it to an absolute minimum, you should follow his or her instructions and add flavor in other ways. Otherwise, work with your friends and family on a lifestyle and everyday eating habits that is nutritional and gives you energy, but that isn’t extreme. Add a pinch of salt to your meal if you find it too bland. As you adjust to a low-sodium lifestyle, experiment with other ways to enhance the flavor of your meals. Use lemons, fresh salsa, rosemary, cilantro and spices to make your meals more flavorful and enjoyable. Use olives, capers, cheese, or turkey bacon (sparingly) to add some salty flavors to salads or neutral dishes.

Changing long-term eating habits aren’t easy, but your health is worth it! We hope these tips on how to minimize sodium give you motivation and confidence on simple ways to begin making changes. Take good care of your heart today, and feed it well!

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