February is American Heart Month — a timely reminder to check in on your risk for hypertension, the “silent killer” that affects one out of three American adults. What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Besides monitoring your blood pressure (learn more about the Y’s free Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program), reducing sodium intake is a great way to keep your heart healthy. Too much sodium in your system puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. In some people, this may lead to high blood pressure. Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). These tips from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can help you keep this number in line.
Think fresh: Most of the sodium Americans eat is found in processed foods. Eat highly processed foods less often and in smaller portions—especially cheesy foods, such as pizza; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli/luncheon meats; and ready-to-eat foods, like canned chili, ravioli and soups. Fresh foods are generally lower in sodium.
Enjoy home-prepared foods: Cook more often at home—where you are in control of what’s in your food. Preparing your own foods allows you to limit the amount of salt and saturated fat in them. For example, use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream and skip the seasoning packet and use pepper and olive oil instead.
Fill up on veggies and fruits—they are naturally low in sodium: Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits—fresh or frozen. Not a fan? Try preparing them in different ways — instead of steaming broccoli, roast it in the oven with olive oil and red pepper flakes.
Adjust your taste buds: Cut back on salt little by little—and pay attention to the natural tastes of various foods. Your taste for salt will lessen over time. Additionally, keep salt off the kitchen counter and the dinner table and substitute spices, herbs, garlic, vinegar or lemon juice to season foods.
Boost your potassium intake: Choose foods with potassium, which may help to lower your blood pressure. Potassium is found in vegetables and fruits, such as potatoes, beet greens, tomato juice and sauce, sweet potatoes, beans (white, lima, kidney), and bananas. Other sources of potassium include yogurt, clams, halibut, orange juice and milk.
As you’d expect, being active and getting sufficient sleep are also major contributors to a healthy ticker. How have you found success in keeping your heart health in check? Share your story below!