Benicar, Cozaar, Diovan: Sitting in our physician’s sterile office, we were told to pick our poison. At only 32-years-old, my otherwise healthy surfer and yogi husband was diagnosed with Hypertension.
With a shrug, the doctor told us there was not much, besides medication, that we could do about it. His initial prescription was as follows: Don’t smoke, eat healthy, avoid stress, exercise 30 minutes a day, do yoga and meditate.
Check, check, check, check and double check. As we checked off box after box, instead of feeling a sense of pride for our healthy lifestyles, a sense of hopelessness rushed over me as I realized the “holistic” alternatives were running out and medication was beginning to seem like the only option left.
Determined to not fall prey to the pharmaceutical industry, we set out on a two year long journey towards finding a truly holistic approach of managing hypertension. We spent the next few months cleaning up our lifestyles even more – including switching to almost exclusively plant and fish based diets and increasing our yoga and meditation practices. Upon returning for his 6 month check-up and submitting to test after test, the final prognosis emerged that his hypertension, like many people, is caused by a salt-sensitivity. So there we had it – the war on salt had officially been waged.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American consumes between 3400-5000mg of sodium daily.
Nearly one in three adults has high blood pressure. While some cases are caused by a genetic predisposition, the majority of cases are caused by otherwise controllable factors like: stress, activity level, weight, tobacco use, high sodium intake and low potassium intake.
If you choose to take back control of your hypertension, or you just would like to lower your salt intake and feel a little lighter, here are some easy and natural lifestyle changes you can start implementing today:
1. Recognize Your Limitations: Adults should be consuming no more than 2300mg of sodium each day. That means all day – breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. If you are already hypertensive, you should not consume more than 1500mg sodium daily. If you are in a relationship like us, where one is hypertensive and one isn’t, it is very important to embrace this lifestyle together. For three days in a row, make a detailed list from the first meal of the day until the last, then calculate your total sodium intake here. Chances are, the numbers will blow your mind. Use this eye-opening lesson to propel you into making the change.
2, Embrace the Change: Set yourself up for success by mentally embracing this positive change from Day 1. Do not go in to this new lifestyle thinking about what you can no longer have. You will fail. You will fall victim time and time again to the smell of sizzling bacon. This is a fact. Keep your thoughts positive and focused on the goal of long-term health and vitality.
3. Become an Enthusiastic Label Reader: Fortunately, the US requires food makers to disclose the sodium content of all packaged food, which makes this a much easier beast to control. But, salt is literally everywhere! So, first to go are most of the canned and packaged foods. 1 cup of Campbell’s canned Chicken Noodle Soup contains 1106mg, while a handful of pretzels can run you upwards of 800mg. Start reading labels! Most packaged foods now come with a “low-sodium” option so always opt for that.
4. Avoid The 3 F’s: Fast Food, Fried Food and Flour. Did you know? Subway’s Double Meat Italian BMT 6-inch sandwich contains a whopping 2850mg of sodium – 550mg more than the recommended consumption for the entire day! Most flour products (breads, pizza dough, fresh pasta, etc.) have extremely high levels of sodium. Also notoriously high in sodium are cured meats, packaged sliced meats and most cheeses. If you are a meat eater, an un-salted skinless chicken breast sandwich or a “no salt-added” canned tuna sandwich with swiss or provolone cheese (lowest in sodium) make excellent healthy lunch options. When in doubt, fresh, lightly seasoned foods are the way to go.
5. Fall in Love with Potassium Powerhouses: Avocados, Dried Apricots, Large Medjool Dates, Raisins, Bananas and Coconut Water - these superfoods are not only delicious but also really high in potassium, which helps balance out the sodium in your body. Start incorporating them into your everyday life. And the next time someone questions you about that third helping of (un-salted) guacamole, just smile and say, “It’s my medicine!”
And finally, Exhale: All of this can be really overwhelming. The thought of giving up your favorite Italian prosciutto or fried fish tacos can be depressing. At one point, we became so neurotic about our sodium intake that I realized this could actually be raising his blood pressure even more…the irony! Take a deep breath and remember that you are doing this for your long-term health, and choosing a natural way to fight back against a salty culprit. As long as you can control what you put in to your body, you will hopefully never have to deal with the harsh and unappealing side effects of high blood pressure medications, like: Unexplained skin rash, itching, unexplained swelling of the head or neck, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, dizziness, fainting spells and/or diminished sexual drive.
Stay tuned for more tips on living a low-sodium lifestyle with Part Two: Tasty Low- Sodium Lunches and Part Three: Delicious Low-Sodium Dinners, coming soon to MindBodyGreen.