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How a Family History of High Blood Pressure Led Me to Lower Sodium

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How a Family History of High Blood Pressure Led Me to Lower Sodium

Patricia Patton is joining the Sodium Blog as a Guest Blogger today.

I live with high blood pressure: a chronic condition that is known as the silent killer because it has no outward-facing symptoms and you cannot look at someone and know whether they have it. For me, the name alone puts it into the category of a scary disease. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke and about a third of U.S. adults have hypertension. This is not a good scenario. So this is my #BreakUpWithSalt Story.


My high blood pressure, or hypertension as it is called, was discovered during a routine specialist visit for something completely different more than 20 years ago. At the time, midlife weight was beginning to creep up at a rate of a couple pounds per year. She sent me from her office to my internist who immediately began to delve deeper. Since then, I have been on a small dosage of medication that has kept my blood pressure within normal ranges until a few months ago. I felt stressed, so I took my pressure and noticed an uptick (note: it can take more than one reading to be diagnosed with high blood pressure but my stress was real!). I had been exercising regularly but because I was sitting at my computer so many hours during the day, my old level of physical activity no longer seemed sufficient. Not only had I been exercising, I’d been very focused on portion control and had even joined an online weight group.

There is a history of high blood pressure in my family. Indeed, African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic adults in the U.S. population. In the meantime, because so much is known about how to treat high blood pressure, I have refocused my energy on learning what other steps I can take to address this.

In truth, I would take a salty snack over a sweet one any day. Interestingly, it’s the sodium we don’t track that may be hurting so many of us. So first among the steps I must take is to figure out how not to let salt sneak up on me. That is why I will #BreakUpWithSalt. The American Heart Association recommends that we watch for the salty six: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, soup, sandwiches and poultry. These are the top six sodium sources of sodium in the U.S. diet.

I am breaking up with salt. I am taking the pledge to reduce the sodium I eat. And you can too right here.

Here are some things we all can do:

  • Read product labels to determine the sodium level per serving. Different brands even with of the same sizes have different sodium levels.
  • Choose fresh over frozen breaded poultry. Any poultry in a saline solution is to be avoided.
  • Avoid hidden sodium in condiments. Look for reduced or lower sodium offerings in olives, jarred salsas, soy sauces, for example.
  • Choose canned vegetables and frozen vegetables without salt. Once these are added to a mixed dish, you will not miss the salt.

Always check packaging for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check for food that meet AHA’s sodium criteria. Learn more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program.

These are important habits to develop. Perhaps you’ve already taken several steps to improve your health like losing excess weight, watching your diet, and maybe even cutting back on potato chips. An independent survey conducted by the American Heart Association in 2013 and 2016 showed that over the past year, nearly half of Americans have tried to reduce sodium and/or sugar. They have also made an effort to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, and eat fewer processed foods with varying degrees of success.

My #BreakUpWithSalt Pledge offers me a chance to clear up my misconceptions about hidden sources of sodium. Many of us know that the salt shaker is not the only source of sodium in our diets. I can read a nutrition label better to identify hidden sodium. I know my body needs no more than 1500 mg per day of sodium. Yet Americans consume between 3000-3500 mg per day. Clearly, it’s important to find the hidden sodium in our lives.

As a black woman with a family history of hypertension, I need to live a long, healthy life. My family and my community also need to understand this.

It would be a big help if restaurants and companies provided warning labels on their menus so that customers could make better decisions. Just yesterday, I ordered a shrimp, fennel, avocado and grapefruit starter along with a second appetizer of sautéed spinach in a New York restaurant. My portion size was correct. But in retrospect, I suspect the salt content may have been off. New York City now has a salt shaker icon on its menus to indicate whether a food item has more than the 2300 mg of sodium. The mind blower is that 2300 mg of sodium is the total daily recommended maximum allowance. Most people just don’t know this.

Laws like these help us focus on maintaining a culture of health. Join AHA to advocate for less sodium in our food. Public awareness will be heightened when businesses begin to help customers think for themselves. Take the pledge and #BreakUpWithSalt. Take control of your health.

Patricia Patton is joining the Sodium Blog as a Guest Blogger today. You can connect with Patricia on Twitter at @Boomerwiz or via the Patricia Patton 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.