As you have probably heard by now, February is Heart Awareness Month. There are many strategies to bring attention to heart disease in women, ways to become more heart healthy and general guidance on heart disease including information on its prevalence.
For my part, I am introducing an important topic, one that is very close to home for me. We all know the importance of healthy eating, such as eliminating fast food or restaurant foods from our diet, and eating less packaged items and opting for more “real food”, as well as homemade from scratch meals.
Just over a year ago, my doctors instructed me to reduce the sodium in my diet. Diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy following the birth of my third child, I am now at risk of going into heart failure, something that can be triggered by excess salt/sodium in the body. Heart failure causes fluid backup around the heart, making it harder to pump efficiently. Note that excess salt in the body does not cause heart failure itself, but is one of the side effects of eating salt-laden foods with this specific diagnosed heart condition.
What does a low sodium diet entail? Well, I keep my daily limit to around 1500 mg daily. This may sound like a lot, but the average Canadian actually consumes between 3000-3400 mg daily. The average Canadian is recommended to limit salt intake to around 2000 mg daily.
In order to keep my sodium levels at a minimum, I need to be extra cautious when looking at food labels on the most benign items. Hidden sodium is prevalent in bread products – the average flour tortilla has 500 mg of sodium! – and canned items that might be a staple in everyday cooking. These include tomato sauces of all kinds, salsas, condiments, etc. Pastry items can be full of sodium. Even something as simple as my daily coffee has over 200 mg sodium (clearly, I’m not talking about black coffee here; one needs their indulgences!).
The most obvious “bad guys” in the food world for sodium: lunch meats, frozen foods such as pizza, bread products, canned or packaged soups and any food from any restaurant setting.
I do allow myself the occasional treat – usually Sushi – but I am very conscious of the everyday foods I eat and cook with. So, I buy low sodium bread products (or I make them), I now cook with dried beans, use ‘no salt added’ tomato sauce to help build pasta sauces and pizza sauce. I make homemade pizza (dough and sauce) loaded with veggies and homemade turkey ‘sausage’, and am excited to try my hand at making homemade tortillas (both flour and corn). I focus on eating real food mainly.
I check the labels of everything now, as I’ve been caught unaware before. I probably shouldn’t have been eating them anyway, but early on in my no salt ways I ate a cinnamon roll from a “certain Swedish furniture store” and was shocked to discover the entire roll had almost 800 mg of sodium!! Yowza!
And sure, reading this you may not think you have a problem with sodium intake, but like with sugar, it doesn’t take much to add up to a large amount. Are there ways you can cut the salt? Besides the obvious of not salting your food or the food you cook (I never add salt to the cooking process, something I never thought I would do – I like to cook and you need to season your food). But, you find ways to work around the lack of salt and add new flavours.
In my next blog post for Heart Awareness Month, I will share how you can swap certain foods for lower sodium versions, and the best way to use herbs, lemon and other flavours to enhance your kitchen creations.
For more information on Heart Awareness Month, please visit the American Heart Association website: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/
If you are on Twitter, check out heart friendly hashtags like: #GoRedforWomen, #ActsofRed, and #Heartdayhumpday