The DASH diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” and focuses on heart health and lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet really isn’t a diet at all; it is a dietary lifestyle change- incorporating a lot of fruits and vegetables, fiber, lean protein, legumes and limited dairy products.
One step nearly all of us can make to improve heart health is to reduce the amount of salt in our diet. Just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium-this is more than the recommended daily salt intake for a healthy adult. Lowering consumption to no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily can be an effective way to prevent or lower high blood pressure.
Salt is essential for our bodies in small amounts, as it helps us to maintain a balance of fluids in our body and transmits nerve impulses; it also influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Sodium attracts and holds water causing your blood volume to increase, in turn putting stress on the heart and increasing pressure in your arteries. Excess salt can increase blood pressure and risk for a heart attack and stroke.
It is essential to read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. In general, try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. Don’t forget to account for the serving size. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite.
American Heart Association suggests avoiding the “Salty Six,” which are common foods that tend to contain excess salt which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. The “Salty Six” are bread, cold cuts & cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches. Visit the American Heart Association’s website to learn more about “The Salty Six.” Consider the following tips before your next grocery shopping trip to help you make smarter, heart healthy choices:
- Always check the serving size and sodium content on the foods you buy.
- Look for “low-sodium,” “reduced sodium” and “no salt added” varieties when possible. Look on the package for a “Heart Check” mark that certifies that it meets guidelines set forth by American Heart Association as being heart healthy
- In place of salt to add flavor to your foods, try using herbs and spices, citrus from lemons or oranges, roasted vegetables, caramelized onions, toasted nuts and grains, and garlic.
- Be cautious of spice blends that you buy at the store in plastic containers as many contain high amounts of sodium and do more harm than good for your health.
Before you make any changes to your diet, please consult with your doctor or health care provider to discuss dietary recommendations based on your personal health conditions and history.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Association, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals.