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Nutrition 101: Love Your Heart - American Heart Month

February 1, 2019

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide.  The good news is, however, that many of these deaths and associated risk factors are preventable.  While age, gender and family history cannot be controlled, you may be able to prevent and control elevated cholesterol and other lipids, high blood pressure, excess weight and obesity with lifestyle changes, healthful eating and medications.

This February, you may be treating your sweetheart, but don’t forget to give your own heart some special treatment as well.  In honor of American Heart Month, why not begin by making some healthy eating changes with a focus on reducing sodium intake.

You are, more than likely, getting more sodium than what your body needs or what is good for your heart.  In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body creating an added burden for your heart.  Blood pressure tends to rise with age, and eating less salt/sodium now can help to decrease that rise and reduce your risk of developing other conditions associated with too much sodium, such as stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

What are the recommendations?

The average American consumes about 3400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg a day and is moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.   

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:

  • ¼ tsp salt = 575 mg sodium
  • ½ tsp salt = 1150 mg sodium
  • ¾ tsp salt = 1725 mg sodium
  • 1 tsp salt = 2300 mg sodium

Salty Misconceptions

Sea salt has less sodium than table salt.

Sea salt has boomed in popularity here recently, but it usually IS NOT less salty.  Like table salt, it typically contains about 40% sodium.

Lower sodium foods have NO TASTE.

There are many flavor alternatives and ways to be creative when seasoning without salt.  Experiment with spices, herbs and citrus to enhance the natural flavor of your food.  Flavored vinegars and oils are another way to add taste without added salt.

If your blood pressure is normal, you don’t need to worry about how much sodium you eat.

Even for people who don’t have high blood pressure, less sodium will significantly reduce the rise in blood pressure that occurs as we age and may also reduce the risk of developing other conditions, such as kidney disease which is associated with eating too much sodium.

What can you do?

  • Check nutrition labels on prepared and packaged foods, as up to 75% of the sodium consumed is hidden in processed foods.  Be aware of other words such as “soda” and “sodium,” which mean sodium compounds are present.
  • Consider trying pizza with grilled chicken strips and lots of vegetables and a smaller amount of cheese.  Oftentimes, just a small change can bring big results when it comes to your heart health.
  • Use fresh, skinless poultry that isn’t enhanced with a sodium solution instead of fried of processed chicken.
  • Try choosing lower sodium varieties of soup.
  • Make your sandwiches with lower sodium meats and low fat, low sodium cheeses.  Try to limit the condiments added.
  • Choose foods that are natural sources of potassium, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low fat milk and milk products and fish to help counter the effects of sodium.  Blood pressure may be lowered by including potassium-rich foods in your diet regularly.  Specific potassium-rich foods include: potatoes, spinach and other greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, citrus fruits, prunes, apricots, raisins, dates, skim and 1% milk, fat-free yogurt, halibut, tuna and molasses.
  • Experiment with different herbs and spices.  Be sure to check the label to make sure that salt or sodium has not been added.
  • The American Heart Association has many resources available to help you love your heart.  Check them out at www.heart.org.

To find out more information on how to eat for a healthy heart, contact your UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown Dietitians at (641) 854-7530 or MT_dietitians@unitypoint.org.

Click here to find out more information about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Outpatient Nutrition Services.


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