6 ways to reduce your sodium intake

We knew the stats were going to be bad, but were still shocked to learn that high blood pressure affects 1 in 4 Canadians and is responsible for 62% of strokes and 42% of heart attacks! With June being Stroke Awareness Month, we’d like to highlight this major contributing factor.

Why are so many Canadians suffering from high blood pressure? Studies list three reasons. First, many Canadians are not aware of what their blood pressure is. Second, of those with high blood pressure many are either not being treated or are on medications and still not controlled. The third reason is diet!

According to the experts, 30% of high blood pressure in Canada is diet related, the key culprit being sodium. When we tell clients their sodium intake may be the cause of their high blood pressure, their response is usually, “I don’t add salt to anything I cook and the salt shaker is not on the table for dinner”. However, this is not where the sodium is coming from. 77% of the sodium Canadians ingest is from processed foods. Any food item that is not in its raw form will have sodium added to it: bread, canned soup, cereals, crackers, marinated meats, granola bars, peanut butter, frozen meals, etc.

The body needs sodium to help regulate blood pressure, but too much causes blood vessels to constrict making the heart work harder to pump blood. People between the ages of 9-50 need 1500mg of sodium daily for their body to function optimally. The average intake for adult Canadians is approximately 3100mg of sodium per day! This amount does not include salt from the salt shaker so it is likely even higher.

Here are our recommendations to control sodium intake, and thus help control blood pressure:

1. Aim for 2300mg of sodium per day. You can do this by keeping a daily food journal. On the left side list the food item, and on the right side list the amount of sodium. Processed food items list the amount of sodium on the label, so it is very easy to keep track. This allows you to still enjoy some of your favorite (but high sodium) foods- just be sure to regulate what else you eat during that day to reach your goal.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for a minimum of 3 servings at lunch and 4 servings at supper. This may sound like a lot but keep in mind 1 cup of leafy lettuce or raw spinach is one servings and everything else is ½ cup of cooked or raw. Fruits and vegetables have potassium in them, which helps lower blood pressure. Eating more fruits and vegetables will also help prevent you from filling up on all the salty foods.

3. Exam your current diet and tally up how many times per week you eat out in a restaurant. If you are eating out more than once per week your sodium intake is going to be higher than you realize. Salt is used as a flavor enhancer as well as a preservative; the average restaurant meal has at least 3,000mg of sodium. That means you’ll consume more than your daily allotment in one meal.

Request for no salt to be added when you order. If they make the food fresh they may be able to accommodate you. If they are using packaged food they will not be able to do so. The other alternative is to limit the amount you eat out.

4. Make cooking at home fun and easy. North Americans have gotten very accustomed to a diet rich in variety and convenience and as a result, forget how simple, cost effective and fun cooking at home can be. If you have children, it is your responsibility to teach them how to cook. If not, you owe it to your waist line, blood pressure and your pocket book to get engaged!

We’re not at all recommending you become a gourmet cook and start serving 3 course meals for dinner every night. Quite the contrary, we are simply asking you to get back to the basics. A fast meal can be a rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store, baked potato done in the microwave, steamed carrots and a spinach salad (spinach from a bag, washed and ready to go) and a cup of milk. You can take the leftovers for lunch the next day or keep them for supper, which will save you a great deal of time.

5. Choose fresh and frozen vegetables versus canned vegetables. Canned vegetables have a lot of salt added to them.

6. Salt is only one way of seasoning food, experiment with herbs and different spices to add flavor to your food. When I am cooking a dish I generally cut back on the amount of salt the recipe recommends and add in other spices to bump of the flavor. There are also many low-sodium spice mixes out there. (For example, Epicure® has many blends to choose from, as does Mrs.Dash)

Reducing sodium intake is a great start to preventing strokes. To learn four more ways of reducing your risk, read this post.

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Revive Wellness is a team of private practice Dietitians in Edmonton. We provide customized nutrition and wellness coaching that empowers Canadians to live with energy, vitality & health! www.revivewellness.ca

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