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Changing my diet to help prevent high blood pressure

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Changing my diet to help prevent high blood pressure

Tara Jefferson, of The Renaissance Suite, is joining the Sodium Blog as a Guest Blogger today.

After years of skipping my annual physical, I finally made an appointment to go this past March. I couldn’t call myself a self-care coach if I hadn't gotten a full medical work up since my son was born in 2008. That just doesn't work.


Upon my visit, most of my tests were great -- except my blood pressure was sky-high. I was only 30 so my doctor was a little concerned. She put me on a low-sodium diet (no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day) for two weeks and we scheduled a follow-up appointment.

Once I left the office armed with information, I was confident it would be no problem until I actually began looking at nutrition labels and keeping track of my sodium intake. My favorite shrimp creole recipe? 2,200 milligrams of sodium. My favorite Chinese food takeout? 3,400 milligrams. One cheesecake slice had 700 milligrams. The numbers were adding up fast and I was stunned. What is safe to eat? I wondered.

Up until that point, I had only looked at fat, calories and sugar on my labels. I thought I was doing a great job! But as I told my doctor at my two week check-up (when my blood pressure was lower!), now that I know how much sodium is in every day foods, I can't "unknow" it!

So my quest was not to just revamp my diet but that of my whole family.

Here's where I had to start:

We are a busy family so we tend to eat out at least once a week (which includes pizza night). Whenever we were on the way to the restaurant, I would look up the nutrition facts on my phone and share with my husband the healthiest options. It wasn’t easy. Most nutrition information for restaurants are hard to find, buried several pages deep on their website and very rarely was it mobile friendly.

Most times when I could find the information, the grilled salmon or a plain steak would be the safest bet. Any pasta or fried, sautéed or roasted item was crazy high in sodium. And forget about the appetizers. They were all salt bombs. One surprising thing is that prepared vegetables were so salty! A side serving of spinach or broccoli could have 500 milligrams or more. I was stunned but again, knowledge is power.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 75% of the sodium in our diets comes from processed, prepacked and restaurant foods. And I’d guess that for most women, that represents a fair portion of what we eat. We all live busy lives and making every single thing from scratch can be time-consuming.

Previously, going out to a restaurant was a great form of self-care for me, allowing someone else to cook a meal for me and my family and giving me the chance to simply enjoy being with them. But now I’m realizing – is it really a great break if it harms my heart?

This is why I'm happy to partner with the American Heart Association to help more women become heart-healthy. In its #BreakUpWithSalt campaign, we’re working together to urge restaurants to decrease the sodium in their food and to list the nutritional facts so diners can make more informed choices.

Do me a quick favor — go in the kitchen and just peek at some of your family's favorite foods. How much sodium is in that spaghetti sauce? Mustard? Frozen chicken nuggets? Brownie mix? You might be surprised by how much is in your everyday diet, before you even pick up a salt shaker.

Join me in #BreakUpWithSalt, to decrease the amount of sodium we eat for healthier lives. Remember ladies: Self-care isn't just bubble baths and pedicures, but the actual work of making sure we're around for the long haul.

Here are a few tweaks I made to help improve my heart health and that of my family:

  • I learned what the Salty Six were: bread, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches. I found lower sodium lunch meat and began using two slices instead of three on sandwiches.
  • I began to pay attention to portion size when seasoning. If a tablespoon of seasoning has 1,000 milligrams of sodium, be sure you don't use more than a tablespoon!
  • I began to buy more fruit for everyone to snack on versus eating salty snack foods like chips.
  • I cut back on my canned food. Some canned food requires salt to help preserve the food so I check the label and look for frozen instead.
  • If I have to order food on the go, I’ll order the kids’ meals at fast food restaurants. They tend to have less sodium because it’s a smaller portion size. 

Get more information about how sodium affects your health, and find lower sodium recipes and get empowered about your health!

Tara Jefferson, of The Renaissance Suite, is joining the Sodium Blog as a Guest Blogger today. You can connect with Tara on Twitter at @wherewomenbloom or via the Tara Jefferson Facebook page.


The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The American Heart Association | American Stroke Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.