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HLM News Service—Think that box of cereal labeled “whole grain” and “healthy” is good for you? You might want to take a second look. It turns out many foods in Ava grocery stores hold a tasty, but hidden danger that’s bad for your heart: salt. Snack chips may be obvious offenders, but others like cereal, bread, cheese, and milk contain salt, too.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns Douglas County residents to read food labels carefully. Eating foods high in salt or sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, among other problems. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder and can put you at risk for a heart attack. In Douglas County in 2007, 26 percent of residents suffered from high blood pressure. That is about the same as the state rate of 20 percent.
Think that number’s not so bad? Turns out high blood pressure has been increasing across Missouri. In fact, the number of Missouri residents whose hearts are working harder is on the rise. From 2003 to 2007, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has seen a two percent state increase in high blood pressure.
That change is due in part to high levels of salt hidden in many foods. “Our taste for salt can grow over time, especially if we use a lot of convenience foods or we eat out a lot. With efforts to eat out less, choose foods from the supermarket with less salt, and prepare more fresh foods at home seasoned with herbs, spices, or lemon juice, we can gradually reduce our taste for salt,” said Glenda Kinder, Nutrition & Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension – Kansas City. “You know you’re accomplishing your goal when you begin to notice that foods you previously thought were just fine, now begin to taste salty. Your heart health will thank you.”
While the trends aren’t good, there are steps you can take to help your health. Health experts say that shaking the hidden salt habit is important and saves lives. If each American cut back on his or her salt intake, an estimated 100,000 people could be saved from heart attack and stroke. That’s enough people to more than fill Busch Stadium in St. Louis twice over.
So how much salt is too much? Federal dietary guidelines say no more than 2,300 mg, or a teaspoon of salt a day. But according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), most Americans consume much more. For Ava residents with high blood pressure, the IOM recommends eating less than a half teaspoon or about 1,500 mg a day.
Making smart salt decisions doesn’t have to be radical, said MU Extension Show-Me Nutrition Line Coordinator Jessica Kovarik, a registered and licensed dietitian.
“Reducing salt doesn’t mean eating plain food. [You can] lower the salt content of your food by making more meals at home. Processed foods, such as boxed meals and frozen entrees, can contain a lot of salt. If you use them, try adding more vegetables and whole grains to help increase the nutrients while decreasing the fat, calories, and salt they provide. If you choose a boxed Mexican rice dish, add more beans and some brown rice while cooking. Try some bell or chili peppers for more flavor and color.”
Here are other sweeter salt options that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Health Literacy Missouri recommend:
• Reading the labels of the foods you buy. Look for salt “code words” like sodium, sodium chloride, sea salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG). Items that are “sodium free” or “very low sodium” are good choices. Low salt foods are any with 5 percent of the Daily Recommended Value or 140 mg.
• Buying produce from local farmers markets.
• Choosing fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned.
• Tasting your food before you reach for the salt shaker.
• Mixing homemade salad dressing with olive oil and vinegar.
• Keeping the flavor of foods with other herbs and spices. Black pepper, garlic powder, lemon and orange juice are all budget-friendly choices.
• Reducing the salt in canned foods by draining and rinsing before use.
For more information, contact the University of Missouri Extension Show Me Nutrition Line at 1-888-515-0016 or visit the American Heart Association at www.americanheart.org