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Heart Healthy Eating: Reducing the Risks of Heart Disease.

October 28, 2008

By Your Personal Trainer,
Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM

We are surrounded by food. It’s everywhere–at the movies, at the mall, at work, at the airport. It’s available, convenient and it’s usually pretty tasty. The problem is that it’s often not healthy. In choosing foods that are prepared by others, we lose control not only over the way in which it is prepared but also over the ingredients with which it is prepared. Compared to foods prepared at home, most commercially prepared foods are high in sodium, cholesterol and sugar. Those ingredients contribute to three of the risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Knowing your numbers and making some changes in your eating habits can help to decrease your risk.

Why is blood pressure important? High blood pressure, also called hypertension, affects one out of three adults in America and is one of the major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. Resting blood pressure should be 120/80 or less. Hypertension, blood pressure greater than 140/90, occurs when blood pumped from the heart exerts too much force against the arteries which can lead to damage of the vessels’ linings. There are some ways that you can help to prevent high blood pressure. One of them is to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet–excess sodium causes water retention. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, cutting down on stress, and being physically active will also help to reduce your risk. This week, I will focus on some ways to reduce sodium in your diet as one step towards healthier eating.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Salt and sodium are not the same thing. Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. A teaspoon of salt is about 2,300 mg of sodium. Most sodium comes from processed foods–canned soups and vegetables, convenience foods and fast foods. Salt by any other name is salt–sea salt, rock salt and kosher salt don’t vary in the amount of sodium. Americans consume a whopping 4,000 mg of sodium per day! Speaking of whopping, do you suppose that’s where the name “Whopper” might have come from? The Burger King Double Whopper with cheese contains, yes, you guessed it, a “whopping” 1510 mg of sodium! Add a side of King fries for another 1070 mg and you’re over your daily allotment–and that’s just lunch for some people! Even the Chicken Whopper has 1370 mg of sodium!

Food labels are the key. All packaged foods are required to have Nutrition Facts which will tell you how much sodium is in each serving. Be careful here. A jar of salsa may list that it has only 150 mg of sodium but on closer examination of the serving size you will see that it is 2 Tablespoons. Do you know many people who use only 2 Tablespoons of salsa on their burrito? More like half a cup which has 8 Tablespoons or 4 x 150 = 600 mg. Serving size is important. By reading labels, you can make the decision as to what brand to buy. The Food and Drug Administration has established the following criteria for sodium content:

• Sodium-free–less than 5 mg/serving
• Very low sodium–less than or equal to 35 mg/serving
• Low-sodium–less than 140 mg/serving
• Light in sodium–sodium reduced by at least 50% compared to the regular product
• Reduced sodium–sodium reduced by 25% compared to the regular product
• Unsalted–no salt added

So, the next time you are in the grocery store, check the labels and choose brands that are lower in sodium. Avoid boxed and convenience foods which are usually very high in sodium. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, and lean, unprocessed meats. Eat at home more often, put the salt shaker away and use herb and spice combinations instead. Finally, season your own pasta sauces. Commercially prepared sauces can range from 200 mg to over 700 mg of sodium per half cup. Try this: saute some chopped garlic in olive oil. Add some chopped, fresh basil leaves, a pinch of nutmeg, some fennel seed and a can of “No Salt Added” chopped or diced tomatoes. Let it simmer awhile and serve it over whole wheat pasta topped with a little shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese. Buon Appetito!

Yours in fitness,

Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM

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Discuss this article

Gienie October 28, 2008

Thanks Olivia. This was very clear advise and very useful.

Kay October 28, 2008

Olivia, can risk of hypertension increase with age? Throughout my life, when having my blood pressure checked I’ve always been found to have great readings. The nurse at my last reading said, “You have the blood pressure of a teen ager”. (I’m 57). I’d take from this that I don’t have to make any drastic changes in my diet’s sodium levels. But, can the sodium levels in my diet up to now affect me differently as I get older?

Lizzie October 28, 2008

Thanks for the information about sodium. I have never heard it explained like this before.

Olivia October 28, 2008

Kay, great question. Though there is a tendency for blood pressure to increase with age due to reduced elasticiy of the arterial system, it doesn’t have to. Age is only one factor. Ideally, the BP you have as a teenager should serve you well throughout life. It used to be thought that blood pressure went up because you got older. That is not true. Hypertension has its own set of risk history, obesity, smoking, kidney disease, high alcohol intake, high sodium intake, and lack of exercise and physical activity. You are probably fine with your diet and current sodium level. The best thing you can do is to continue to know your numbers and keep up the good work!

Heart Health October 29, 2008

Thanks for the information about ” Heart Healthy Eating: Reducing the Risks of Heart Disease. “I have never read these kind of information you explained it very clearly.

Cherry Brown November 12, 2008


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