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How to Lose the Salt but Keep the Flavor

January 24, 2012

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

Are you eating too much salt? The truth is that the answer might surprise you, even if you don’t reach for the saltshaker at every meal.

One of the best ways to reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke is to get control of a major risk factor like high blood pressure. Lowering your sodium intake is an effective way of reducing high blood pressure, and an upcoming class as the Washington Women’s Center can help.

Less salt equals lower blood pressure
Next Wednesday, Feb. 1, 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 dining out options and cooking from scratch and utilizing tools like pre-made herb blends to spice up dishes. She will also show off how to spruce up low-sodium canned items with a few quick tricks.

Adding up your sodium intake
She points out that food industry is in the process of gradually reducing the amount of sodium in a number of different products, from soups to sauces, but the major high-sodium culprit isn’t found in your kitchen.

“Dining out is where you get hit really hard when it comes to sodium intake,” Mazzei 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.”

A few tips to lowering sodium intake when you’re planning on a meal out could include:

  • Asking about the sodium content of items so that you can make an informed decision when ordering
  • Requesting that items like condiments and dips be served “on the side”
  • Readjusting your meals for the rest of the day to compensate for a higher sodium content meal out

Mazzei adds that another great way to keep your sodium in check is to ask for nutrition information from chain restaurants—or look it up online before you go. It’s easy and can lead to better choices.

DASH for lower blood pressure
Mazzei also 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.

So, 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.

“The recommendation is for people to take in less than 2300 mg of sodium per day, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” Mazzei says. “But for certain populations including people 50 and older, those with hypertension, African Americans, and people with diabetes, the recommendation is to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium.”

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
Join Mazzei from 12 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1, for her Lunch and Learn seminar in the conference room of the Washington Women’s Center, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register for a class, call (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter

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