Eat Less Sodium

Sodium is an essential nutrient used in our bodies as an electrolyte. Electrolytes are important for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, fluid balance and blood pressure. However, when too much sodium is consumed blood pressure can increase, causing damage to your heart and arteries.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend sodium to be limited to 2300mg per day for adults and children 2 years and older. For those that have high blood pressure, are African American, or are 51 years or older, sodium should be further reduced to 1500mg per day.

It is estimated that the average American consumes about 3400mg of sodium every day. Most of the sodium consumed comes from processed foods and restaurant meals. If you start looking at the sodium content of restaurants foods and processed convenience items it is easy to see how we consume so much sodium.

For example:
Applebee’s Sizzling Skillet Fajita with Chicken has 4730mg of sodium!!! Even if you eat only half you are still consuming 2365mg which is still more than the recommended amount for the whole day!

And in the frozen food aisle, Bertolli’s Chicken Marsala and Roasted Red Skin Potatoes contain 920mg of sodium per portion. If you add a salad with 2 tablespoons of wishbone italian dressing to your meal you are adding another 340mg of sodium.

A good rule of thumb is to try and keep sodium intake to around 500mg at each meal and 250mg for each snack. That way if you eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks you will be around 2000mg for the day.

Making your meals yourself and avoiding processed foods is the easiest way to decrease your sodium intake but that is not always possible due to busy schedules and sometimes you only have time for fast foods or frozen meals. Or maybe you had a long day and are tired and just don’t feel like cooking and having to wash all the dishes afterwards.

So here are a few lower sodium convenience food item recommendations for those days:

-Healthy Choice frozen entrees. Healthy Choice has a number of meals that have around 500mg of sodium such as their honey balsamic chicken, grilled chicken marsala with mushrooms, chicken pasta primavera and sweet and spicy orange zest chicken.

-Wendy’s 4 piece chicken nuggets (350mg sodium) and a sour cream and chive baked potato (50mg sodium) give you 400mg of sodium.

-Wendy’s 6 piece chicken nuggets (520mg sodium) and Apple Slices (0mg sodium) give your 520mg of sodium.

If you are going out to eat and nutrition information is available online, go ahead and take a look at it before you leave the house and take into account the sodium content when you are making your decision.
Say you are going to PF Changs and you always have a hard time deciding between the sweet and sour chicken or the kung pao chicken. You take a look at the nutrition info and notice the kung pao chicken has more than twice the amount of sodium as the sweet and sour chicken… problem solved. Sweet and sour chicken it is. While it is still 760mg of sodium you can decide to eat half at the restaurant and save the other half for later and still be able to stay under your sodium goal. And 6 ounces of brown rice has only 5mg of sodium so you can definitely add the rice and make two good meals out of it.

Bottom line…. try and cook at home using fresh ingredients whenever possible and read your food labels so you know exactly how much sodium you are consuming.

References and Further Reading
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Valentine’s day is coming up and I know I will be indulging in a little bit of chocolate so I thought it would be a good time to discuss the heart benefits of chocolate and which kind of chocolate is best.

Why is chocolate heart healthy?

The cocoa bean is rich in flavonoids, particularly flavonols, which are compounds found in plants that help protect the plants and repair damage from the environment. Flavonols work as antioxidants neutralizing free radicals and reducing inflammation in our bodies. Cocoa and chocolate have been found to reduce inflammation and decrease blood pressure, both important for good cardiovascular health.

However, you have to be careful with choosing your chocolate. Commercially prepared chocolate can have lots of sugar, fat and added calories making it not so beneficial to your heart. So choose carefully and consume in moderation.

What kind of chocolate should I buy?

Dark chocolate contains more cocoa and in general provides more flavonols and less sugar than milk chocolate making it a better choice. Choose a plain dark chocolate that is not full of extra things like caramel, marshmallows or other sugary filling. I love Dove dark chocolates 🙂 You can also buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder that is not alkalized to add some chocolate flavor and flavonols to your recipes.

Have a happy valentines day and don’t forget to share a little dark chocolate with your valentine for heart health!


Eat More Whole Grains!

Whole grains include grains such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn and quinoa. Of course for it to be “whole grain” the grain “kernel” must contain 3 essential parts. These parts are the bran, endosperm and germ. When refined, the bran and germ are usually removed, which removes or greatly reduces many key nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, vitamin e, phytochemicals and minerals. If it doesn’t say “whole grain” on the label, it most likely isn’t.

The Harvard School of Public Health recently analyzed data from two large prospective studies and estimated that every serving of whole grains (28g) consumed per day was associated with a 9% lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.

So what can I do to increase my consumption of whole grains?

1. Switch grains that you already consume to whole grains.
Instead of buying white bread, get whole wheat bread for your sandwiches.
Use brown or wild rice instead of white rice.
Use whole wheat pasta for your pasta dishes.

It does taste different and it can be a bit of an adjustment so you might want to try making your changes in strongly flavored dishes first. For example, if you cover your pasta in a flavorful tomato sauce the change might be less noticible than if you are eating it with simpy an oil or butter sauce.

2. Add healthy whole grain snacks
Instead of munching on potato chips try popcorn! Popcorn in itself is whole grain but the problem is when companies add lots of oil, butter flavoring and salt to make it a less than ideal snack so you have to be careful what kind you choose. You can air pop corn yourself but if you are like me and a little on lazy side that air popper with never be used. If you are looking for a more convenient way, a bagged popcorn such as BOOM CHICKA POP is a great choice. Their sea salt version contains only 140 calories and 90mg of sodium for 4 cups.
Other heart healthy whole grain snacks include whole wheat bread or toast with peanut butter and baked whole grain pita chips with hummus.

3. Experiment with whole grains and flavors you never tried
Trying new things can be fun and you may find your new favorite food….
Try making a cranberry and kale quinoa salad or make buckwheat flour pancakes!

References and Resources