We live in a society that measures and medicates.
All the tools and technology and medicines deployed to maintain heart health are a help — yet heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in Nigeria.
And high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major contributor.
Even so, heart disease is largely preventable, and much of that prevention lies in small steps that can make a big difference; diet is foremost among them.
To lower your blood pressure, you need to reduce salt intake.
In ancient times, salt was so valuable that people used it for currency. It was used sparingly to season and preserve food.
Today, we have an embarrassment of riches, and modern humans consume more salt than is good for them.
But the biggest contributor to our sodium consumption is not the salt shaker: Approximately 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to processed and restaurant foods.
Nigerians Are Still Eating Too Much Sodium
Despite public health efforts over the past several decades to encourage people in Nigeria to consume less sodium.
Adults still take in an average of 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day — well above the current federal guideline of 2,300 mg or less daily.
(The American Heart Association’s recommended cap is 1,500 mg, which is much less than 1 teaspoon — or 6 g — a day.)
Evidence has shown that reducing sodium intake reduces blood pressure, as well as the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Many high blood pressure medications act as diuretics, which stimulate the kidneys to remove sodium and water from the body, thereby relaxing blood vessel walls and lowering blood pressure.
But before choosing to take a medicine that will get rid of the salt in your diet for you, there is another option: What about cutting down on the salt yourself?
If you think about it, you can monitor your salt intake and reduce it without swallowing one pill.
Medication may be necessary if you can’t control spiking and consistently high blood pressure.
But if you initiate your own regimen, you may be able to lower your blood pressure on your own.
Monitoring salt intake begins with avoiding packaged and processed foods;
Such as smoked, salted, and outdoor meat, fish, and poultry, bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats; regular peanut butter (buy unsalted instead); crackers, chips, and pringles and rolls; pizza and mixed pasta dishes, such as lasagna; and more.
Want to Cut Sodium? Look at Food Labels
To stay under 2,300 mg or less a day, you must read food labels regularly.
Look for the “no salt added ” labels (meaning no salt is added during processing, but the product is not necessarily salt- or sodium-free).
Foods labeled “sodium-free” have less than 5 mg per serving; “very low sodium” foods contain less than 35 mg per serving; “low-sodium” foods have less than 140 mg per serving.
Other terms you might see include “light sodium” or “lightly salted” (meaning at least 50 percent less sodium than in the regular product), and “reduced sodium” (meaning at least 25 percent less sodium than in the regular product — but probably too much for your diet!).
Sodium, despite its hazards, is nevertheless an essential nutrient needed in fairly small amounts, unless you lose a lot through sweating.
Sodium helps maintain a balance of body fluids and keeps muscles and nerves working well. A mineral, sodium is one of the chemical elements found in salt.
Though used interchangeably, the words “salt” and ”sodium” have different meanings: Salt, or sodium chloride, is a crystalline compound used to flavor and preserve food.
The relationship between sodium and high blood pressure is fairly straightforward.
Sodium attracts water, and the higher the sodium intake, the greater the amount of water in the bloodstream — which can increase blood volume and blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which blood pressure stays elevated over time.
That makes the heart work harder, and the higher force of blood flow can damage arteries and other organs, including the eyes, brain, and kidneys.
Sodium and potassium also affect each other along with your blood pressure:
Potassium can help lower blood pressure by acting as a counterbalance to the harmful effects of sodium in your diet.
To up your intake, eat foods rich in potassium, such as bananas, juices (such as carrot, orange, pomegranate), yogurt, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and white beans.
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Try These 7 Tricks to Reduce Salt Intake Every Day
Since blood pressure rises with age, monitoring your sodium intake increases in importance with every birthday.
It’s the “ounce of prevention” that can result in the proverbial “pound of cure.” So here are some tips to help you maintain that sodium-free diet:
- Read the Nutrition Facts label.
- Prepare your own meals (and limit the salt in recipes and “instant” products).
- Buy fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables.
- Rinse canned foods containing sodium (such as beans, tuna, and vegetables).
- Add spices to your food.
- Instead of salt, try coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, parsley, cumin, cilantro, ginger, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, garlic or onion powder, bay leaf, oregano, dry mustard, or dill.
- Reduce portion size; less food means less sodium.
And when you’re eating in, try this recipe for a heart-healthy meal.
VEGGIE BAKE WITH OLIVE OIL AND GARLIC
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 3 cups, chopped, of any vegetables in your fridge
- 1 tsp minced fresh garlic
- 1 can (14 ounces) low-sodium chopped tomatoes, drained
- 1 can (14 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Salt-free seasonings, such as coriander, cayenne, parsley, or tarragon
- 2 zucchini, sliced into thin sheets