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Women’s Center Lunch and Learn Class Focuses on Low-Sodium Diet Tips

February 10, 2010

More Taste, Less Salt

One of the best ways to reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke is to get control of one of the biggest risk factors: high blood pressure. And if your doctor has already told you to start doing more to get your blood pressure down, a good place to start is lowering your sodium intake.

Lower sodium, lower blood pressure

Next Tuesday, Feb. 16, Washington Hospital registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Anna Mazzei, R.D., will present a free Lunch and Learn seminar focusing on low sodium cooking at the Washington Women’s Center.

"The goal of a low sodium diet is to help people with their blood pressure control," Mazzei says. "By managing your blood pressure, you help lower your risk for stroke and heart attack."

Heart disease, which causes heart attack, at one time was considered primarily a man’s disease. But medical research has shown that after menopause, the hormones that give women a cushion against heart disease drop off, increasing their vulnerability.

Furthermore according to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the single leading cause of death for American women. In fact, nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer, the AHA says.

Try out tasty, low sodium options

"During this talk, we’re going to look at low sodium cooking and how to make foods more flavorful without as much salt," Mazzei says. "We’re going to look at products that are on the market for planning low sodium meals, including lower sodium choices as far as soups and other canned items.

"We’ll also be performing a taste test on some products and I’ll show participants how to enhance the taste of some of the lower sodium products found in the grocery store," she says, adding that she will focus mostly on lower sodium entrees, but may also take a look at some soup and snack options."

Mazzei will cover cooking from scratch and dining out options, as well as low-sodium canned items that can be spruced up with a few quick tricks.

Adding up your sodium intake

Some less obvious items that can add up, she says, include condiments, certain medications that contain sodium – consult your doctor to see if yours does – and baked goods, most of which rely on baking powder and baking soda. Mazzei calls these hidden sources of sodium.

"For most people, the big ticket item, when it comes to sodium intake, is dining out," she says. "You really have to step in and ask questions about the food and try to order freshly prepared items as much as possible. When they prepare fresh meats at a restaurant, you can say, ‘Don’t add salt.’ But if you have soup or a sauce-based item, they can’t take the salt out.

"We get probably 80 percent of our sodium from processed and prepared foods that you would never think of as high sodium."

DASH for lower blood pressure

Additionally, Mazzei will go over basic low-sodium guidelines, including the current recommendation for managing blood pressure as a means of lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Does reducing salt intake really help?

Mazzei points to a clinical study called DASH, short for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension," which tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. The study demonstrated that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLB), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Even more importantly, a second clinical study, called "DASH-Sodium," showed that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for both the DASH eating plan and the typical American diet.

The study also showed that the biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits were for those eating the DASH eating plan at the lowest sodium level, which was 1,500 milligrams per day.

"When they added a salt restriction on top of the original DASH diet, it really made a difference," Mazzei says. "The recommendation is for people to take in less than 2300 mg of sodium, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005."

Yet for people 50 and older, less than 2300 mg of sodium is recommended. The AHA recommends a daily total of less than 1500 mg of sodium, because blood pressure naturally goes up as people get older, according to Mazzei.

The good news, according to Mazzei, is that there are plenty of ways to dress up meals and snacks without the added salt. And as time goes on, you might find you don’t even miss the extra sodium.

"That salt craving people have is a learned taste," she points out. "And we can unlearn our taste for it."

Drop by and don’t forget your lunch

To learn how to take control of your blood pressure by making meals, snacks, dips and soups more interesting with less salt, join Mazzei from 12 to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, for her Lunch and Learn seminar in the conference room of the Washington Women’s Center, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To learn more about classes and programs at the Washington Women’s Center, visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter