According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one in every two American adults are battling high blood pressure. That is an astounding statistic considering death from heart disease was practically unheard of at the beginning of the 20th century. So how did we get here? In a word, "progress."The Industrial Revolution (1750-1914) changed everything. People born in the 1850's saw America go from a largely agricultural nation to one of developing cities. More and more, people migrated from rural areas to urban areas, searching for job opportunities and to escape the instability of farm life. In doing so, fewer people were growing their own food and instead began buying their food from local stores. If you've ever watched "Little House on the Prairie" you've seen what it looked like to go to the local store.
In 1883, Barney Kroger changed the game by opening the first supermarket chain in North America. Up until that point, shoppers had to buy their baked products, meats, fish and other products from different places. Kroger made it his mission to provide a one-stop-shop experience for his customers and at the turn of the century, he began selling baked foods and meats in his stores. The convenience of being able to get everything in one place, added to the fact that customers were able to select their foods for themselves turned out to be quite profitable. With this growing demand, it became necessary to find ways to mass produce, transport, and preserve foods for storage. This need became more urgent during WWI and WWII giving rise to heavily processed foods, and by the 1950's food manufacturing became big business. Today, the food industry is a $1.5 trillion industry and comprises approximately 4% of our GDP.
According to the American College of Cardiology, with every heavily processed meal we eat, we are increasing our chances of Cardiovascular Disease by 7%.
That being the case, it's no wonder that just under 49% of American adults are battling hypertension. One of the main issues with ultra-processed foods is the elevated sodium levels packed into the foods for preservation and flavor. As we get older, our ability to taste salt diminishes, making it difficult for many to accurately perceive the saltiness of food, also contributing to our penchant to add salt to meals in order to enhance its flavor. We like to enjoy flavorful meals, yet we don't want to shorten our lifespan with every bite we take. So what do we do?
3 things you can do if you are struggling to reduce your salt intake.
1) Slow down and Enjoy
Enjoy what? Everything! While what we take in can have a negative impact on our health, what is already going on inside of us is just as important, if not more! Studies have shown that long-term stress proves detrimental to our cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar regulation, among other things.
As it turns out, many of these 21st century conveniences that we are getting to experience often turn out to be "joy stealers" and leave us with less time, more stress--and worse health. Fast foods and highly processed foods figure prominently in this equation. Because we no longer have to plan around cooking meals, we fill our schedules up, leaving us busy, tired, and harried. So let's take a few steps back and slow down.
I don't love grocery shopping at all and cooking is not really my jam, but there is something to be said about taking the time to plan a meal, shop ingredients, and prepare a meal with my own hands. Chopping onions, smelling garlic sautéing in butter, hearing meat sizzling in the pan, and selecting the brightest and freshest of the vegetables requires time and intention--which means slowing down and results in greater connection with our food and those we are cooking with and for. Being able to sit down and eat a meal can improve digestion as well as mood, which can have positive impact on our heart health. One thing is for certain, not eating fast foods and highly processed meals is better for heart health.
2) Broaden Your Palette
Deciding to cook more meals is great...unless you rely on salt for flavor. How do you add flavor without salt? Let's reframe our thinking and instead of thinking about removing salt, think of it more as replacing it. With what, you may ask? The sky is the limit! There are so many herbs and seasonings that add flavor while providing health benefits. I'll list some below for you to consider:
Uses: stews, soups, sauces, marinades, meat, fish, vegetables, eggs
Benefits: supports brain and digestive health, blood sugar regulation, and is antibacterial
Uses: soups, stir fries, marinades, fish, meat, vegetables, vinaigrettes
Benefits: can reduce bloating and inflammation, reduce nausea, rich in
Caution: Those on blood thinners should not take ginger supplements
Uses: rices, stews, marinades, meats, soups, bean dishes, sauces
Benefits: supports joint health, heart health, digestive, respiratory, and liver health,
Uses: soups, stews, sautés, meats, salads, at the end of cooking
Benefits: supports skin and digestive health, supports liver function, supports
healthy heart function and blood sugar regulation, antioxidant and contains
Vitamins A & K, iron, manganese, iron, and calcium.
Uses: meats, fish, stews, soups (we use this on literally, everything in my family)
Benefits: high in Vitamins C & E, supports heart health, supports immunity, and
Uses: meats, fish, stews, soups
Benefits: supports healthy immune function and blood circulation, anti-
inflammatory, antioxidants, and can support memory
This list could literally go on and on. I encourage you to experiment with these herbs and spices and others. Have fun with it.
3) The Next Best Thing
Just can't stop the salt? That's okay, as long as you ditch the table salt. Many are shocked to see the ingredients in table salt. You'll be even more shocked when you look up those ingredients. If you do, you'll find that there is sugar, yes sugar, in your salt in the form of dextrose. Some will note that table salt contains a much needed mineral, iodine, in the form of potassium iodide. We would all do much better getting our sources of iodine from a diet rich in fish, meat protein, and eggs, than from a highly processed, high sodium, sugar and preservative containing, harsh tasting salt.
So what do you do? Do the next best thing. Instead of using table salt, try Himalayan sea salt, but still in moderation. Pink Himalayan sea salt not only contains less sodium than most other salts, it also contains key minerals that can help stimulate circulation, detoxification and provide electrolytes, which can improve hydration. (In another post, I will talk about the connection between dehydration and high blood pressure.) Even so, if you are working on reducing your blood pressure, it is best to rely on other herbs and seasonings for flavor.
Slowing down, eating out less, eating fewer highly-processed foods is an important first step to improving your overall health and wellness. Experimenting with different herbs and seasonings and even diversifying your ingredients and their combinations will help retrain your palette away from salt and into savor. Replace table salt, along with the sugar and preservatives it contains, with pink Himalayan sea salt, which contains less sodium than table salt, but also has potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. These self-care changes will go a long way toward supporting both your and your medical professionals' work in improving your cardiovascular health, while improving your quality of life...and may turn you into a "foodie."