February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, responsible for 1 in 4 deaths each year in the United States. Additionally, 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure with less than half having it under control. High blood pressure is most prevalent in minority communities, and is often referred to as “The Silent Killer” because there are typically no warning signs or symptoms. Two ways to keep the pressure off your heart are by monitoring your blood pressure and reducing sodium intake.
Research shows that the simple process of checking and recording your blood pressure at least twice a month over a four month period, along with regular physical activity, proper nutrition and reducing sodium intake, may lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. There are many factors in keeping your heart healthy and having a handle on your blood pressure is an effective tool in preventing heart disease.
Besides monitoring your blood pressure, reducing sodium intake is a great way to keep your heart healthy. According to the American Heart Association, too much sodium in your system puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. In some people, this may lead to or raise high blood pressure. Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). Having less sodium in your diet may help you lower or avoid high blood pressure.
The following tips from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can help to reduce sodium in your diet.
- 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 in them.
- Fill up on veggies and fruits — they are naturally low in sodium: Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits—fresh or frozen. Eat a vegetable or fruit at every meal.
- 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.
To address the prevalence of heart disease, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have spearheaded the Million Hearts campaign, an initiative that aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes. To learn more about this program, learn if you are at risk, and learn ways to help prevent heart disease and stroke, visit millionhearts.hhs.gov. It is never too late to make sure your heart stays healthy and strong for many years to come.