High blood pressure doesn't take a holiday

For someone with congestive heart failure, problems with retaining fluid, or other health issues affected by salt and sodium intake one meal can provide two to three times the sodium they should take in.  For some individuals that excessive sodium intake can have serious effects on health. 

Doctors often encourage patients to restrict to less than 2,000 milligrams per day.  In very sensitive people that limit is sometimes reduced to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.  The average American though is estimate to consume upwards of 6,000 milligrams per day!  If 2,000 milligrams is spread over 3 meals and snacks, most meals should not exceed 500 milligrams at one time.  If you are prescribed medications to lower your blood pressure your doctor wants you to also follow a low sodium diet.  If you have someone in your family that needs a low sodium meal this holiday season here are some tips to lower the amount while still enjoying some tasty fare. 

Just the Facts

If you check out the Nutrition Facts label be sure to start with the serving size.  That’s an amount that all the numbers on the label pertain it.  So if your serving size is half a cup, but you eat an entire cup you’d have to double the numbers listed.  Or better yet, choose a natural food item that doesn’t come in a package.  Whole foods that haven’t been processed are lower in sodium that items in cans, covered in a sauce, or ready to go in a microwavable container.  The exception is frozen vegetables with only one ingredient- the vegetable itself!

Avoid using cured meats in recipes. 

A potential low sodium food like green beans or Brussels sprouts sky rockets in sodium when you add bacon, sausage, or ham.  Using toasted nuts like hazelnuts in a vegetable recipe offer tasty flavor, but very low sodium.  Nitrate free or uncured meats have become popular in recent years, these products are often cured with salt and naturally occurring nitrates found in celery salt.  Just because an item is organic and nitrite free does not automatically mean it is a low sodium product.  Always compare your labels if you want to be sure. 

Don’t believe the hype. 

Sea salt has the same sodium content as table salt.  Let me repeat that, Sea salt has the same sodium content as table salt.  It’s been said that ‘all salt at one time came from the sea.’  Compare the nutrition facts next time you’re at the store.  One fourth teaspoon of table salt with iodine (a needed nutrient for our endocrine system) has 590 milligrams of sodium.  The sea salt?  It clocks in at 590 milligrams per teaspoon which equals exactly the same as the table salt.  But what about those extra minerals claimed to be beneficial in sea salt?  Good nutrition is not only about the types of foods we eat, but the amounts.  If I eat half a strawberry, the amount of vitamin C I actually get would be very minimal compared to an entire cup of berries.  In the same way the micro or trace minerals in sea salt do not provide a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc or copper unless you would consume A LOT of sea salt which really would not be beneficial when your body needs a low sodium diet. 

Make it yourself

Skip the premade microwavable mashed potatoes or microwavable macaroni and cheese.  For food safety purposes and for taste manufacturers add salt to prepared foods.  Processed foods are the number one source of sodium in the American diet.  While a whole baked potato prepared in your microwave would have less than 20 milligrams of sodium, a half a cup of premade microwavable mashed potatoes has 560 milligrams!  If cooking for yourself, why not wash and microwave a whole potato or sweet potato in the microwave for eight minutes, remove the peel, and add a little milk and butter while mashing with a fork?   

Even low sodium products can be high in sodium.  Check your Nutrition Facts label even on lower sodium products.  Low sodium broths for example are better than regular broths, but can still exceed someone’s recommended intake.  Consider slowly simmering a batch while you’re cleaning the house for guests.  Food & Nutrition Magazine, a publication of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics offers some basic recipes like this homemade broth that can provide a flavorful base for soups, gravy, or mashed potatoes.


Choose your recipes wisely

When planning a holiday meal for someone on a low sodium diet start with recipes that keep health issues in mind.  Low sodium recipes rely on flavor from holiday spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and garlic.  To find out what spices you can use to create flavor without salt search for recipes with heart healthy guidelines in mind.  Some reputable sources include:

The American Heart Association offers a free Holiday Healthy Eating Guide at http://bit.ly/AHAHolidayGuide2015

Divita dialysis offers thousands of low sodium, low potassium, recipes for people with kidney problems, but the recipes are also appropriate for anyone needing to follow a low sodium diet http://www.davita.com/recipes/tag/christmas

Making a few modifications to try to stay within low sodium diet guidelines can make a difference for your health this holiday season.  We can’t change our bodies, but we can modify what goes in it!