For more than 50 years, February is the month we draw attention to the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, it remains so, despite our best efforts to publicize the risks year-round.
As with all diseases, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) shines a spotlight on reducing our sodium intake as a quick, heart-healthy adjustment we can make to our diets. I practice this at home and with my clients as we plan meals using fresh ingredients, flavorful herbs and spices and minimize salt.
Our bodies need sodium for normal metabolic processes. However, most consume more sodium each day than what is necessary. The AHA suggests that we get no more than 2,300 mg/day, ideally less than 1,500 mg/day.
Too much sodium draws more water into your blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to rise. This creates more work for your heart to pump it through your system. The heart is a muscle, and just like any muscle, working it hard can cause it to enlarge. All of this can create a cascade of events that can result in heart disease and stroke. Excess sodium also can affect other areas of the body, including the kidneys, and can cause bloating and weight gain.
It’s probably no surprise that 65% to 75% of the sodium in standard American diets comes from processed foods and restaurant meals. The AHA believes that less than 10% of the average American’s sodium intake comes from home cooking.
Cooking With Less Salt
By cooking healthy meals with fresh ingredients at home, you control the amount of sodium in your diet. Consider that ¼ teaspoon of table salt contains 575 mg of sodium. One teaspoon yields 2,300 mg, which is the absolute maximum amount of daily sodium the AHA considers healthy. Some easy alternatives to using salt in home-cooked meals include:
- Spices. Spices offer a plethora of flavors and appeal to a wide range of tastes. From curry to cardamom, try spicing up your dishes without using salt.
- Garlic. Garlic creates lots of flavor in a meal and creates an aroma that welcomes you and you enter the room.
- Fresh herbs. Fresh herbs, such as basil, mint and parsley, create a myriad of flavors that blend well in most recipes.
If you’re one to eat out often, look for restaurants that are certified “heart healthy” by the AHA. This certification process considers a meal of 700 calories with 960 mg of sodium to be acceptable. Certified restaurants that include the AHA logo on their menu. Even so, eating out at restaurants twice in one day will put you over the limit of ideal sodium intake.
5 Simple Ways to Reduce Sodium
The AHA offers these tips for keeping a lid on your sodium intake:
- Check nutrition labels on prepared and packaged foods. Look for hidden sodium by searching out the words “soda,” “sodium,” and the symbol “Na” on labels, which means sodium is present.
- Try pizza without cheese, which contains high amounts of sodium. Load it up with grilled chicken and veggies instead.
- Choose lower-sodium varieties of soup if you don’t have time to whip up a batch of homemade soup.
- Use lower-sodium meats on sandwiches and go easy on the condiments.
- Choose foods that contain potassium to counter the effects of sodium, which may also help to lower your blood pressure.
By making a few basic changes in sodium intake, you can create a healthier lifestyle and decrease your risk for heart disease. Take care of your heart!