Saturday, March 16, 2013

Salt Savvy -- Guest Post by Kellie Burkinshaw

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Kellie Burkinshaw is a senior at the University of Maryland and is majoring in community health. She is currently working at LifeWork Strategies as one of the wellness interns. Her particular interests include fitness and nutrition when it comes to health and wellness. In her free time, she enjoys being active by playing women’s ice hockey, going to the gym, and spending time outdoors. She is super excited about having the opportunity to blog during ASHA's 30 day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge and to hear other people’s stories with the diet. 

Each year, U.S. News evaluates diets and ranks them-- and for the third year in a row, the DASH diet has been chosen as the best. DASH stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" which as the title describes, focuses on heart health and lowering blood pressure.  The DASH diet really isn't a diet at all. It is a healthy way to eat, incorporating a lot of fruits and vegetables, plenty of fiber, lean protein from meats and also eating nuts, legumes and limited dairy products… very much like our Med Diet.  In fact, the NHBLI used the Mediterranean Diet as a model in the DASH study.

One step nearly all of us can take to improve heart health is to reduce the amount of salt in our diet.  Excess salt can increase blood pressure and risk for a heart attack and stroke. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium—this is more than the recommended daily salt intake for a healthy adult. Lowering consumption to no more than 1,500mg of sodium daily would be an effective way to prevent or lower high blood pressure.

Salt is essential for our bodies, in small amounts, as it helps us to maintain a balance of fluids in our body and transmit nerve impulses. Salt also influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. The kidneys work to regulate sodium in our bodies, however if your kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium it starts to accumulate in your blood. Sodium attracts and holds water causing your blood volume to increase, in turn putting stress on the heart and increasing pressure in your arteries.

Most of our salt intake is from processed and prepared foods (77%)—major sources are the The Salty Six.  It is essential to read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. In general, try to avoid products with more than 200mg of sodium per serving. Don’t forget to account for the serving size. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite.

Consider the following terms in selecting the products that are best for your health:
  • Sodium-free – less than 5mg of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium – 35mg or less per serving
  • Low-sodium – 140mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium – contains at least 25% less sodium than the regular version
  • Light in sodium – sodium is reduced by at least 50% from the regular version
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt – made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food

Following the Sonoma Diet will help you stay with in the daily recommendation of salt intake.  One thing to keep in mind is that EVOO is widely used within the diet and contains a rather bitter flavor which is the reasoning behind adding salt in foods that are cooked with olive oil—especially is restaurants. Salt gives food the kick and balance that it needs to taste delicious!  If you need a little salt kick, try just adding a small amount of salt at the end of cooking (aka finishing salt).

If you’re like most of us you want your food to taste good and to be full of flavor! In order to make it taste good we tend to use the saltshaker a bit more than we need to. To avoid having to use the saltshaker, try adding flavors to your meal by using these spices or ingredients when cooking. You won’t even be able to tell that salt was not a part of the recipe. The following ingredients are filled with tons of flavor that can be added to any dish: herbs and spices, citrus from lemons or oranges, roasted vegetables, caramelized onions, toasted nuts and grains, and garlic. Be cautious of spice blends that you buy at the store in plastic containers as many contain high amounts of sodium and do more harm than good for your health.

For more info on the DASH Diet, recipes and tips for reducing salt, check out this guide. Try Tracking your Sodium for a day to make sure you are with in the recommended limit.

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