Thursday, February 21, 2013

Change Your Salty Ways in 21 Days!

There are many good reasons to eat a diet that is low in sodium (salt). The biggest reason is to help keep blood pressure controlled; and that's a key to maintaining heart health and preventing a stroke. That's why this month (American Heart Month) I'm challenging you to reduce the sodium in your diet!

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Did you know that the average American eats 3,400 mg?! Believe it or not, the salt shaker is not the primary source of that sodium. The majority of sodium we consume is found in food already--and sometimes it can sneak up on you. For example, a slice of bread may have 240 mg of sodium. A 2-ounce portion of lunch meat is usually between 600 and 750 mg of sodium!

If you're ready to challenge yourself to eat less sodium, never fear; you can change your sodium palate and start enjoying foods with less sodium in just 21 days. Just break down the bigger goal into smaller steps by following the plan below. You'll be promoting a healthier heart and will see reduced swelling and bloating more immediately (and that feels good, right?).

Here are some simple ways to start becoming more aware of the sodium in your food:

  • Read food labels for sodium. Compare them to the daily goal of 2,300mg. How do they measure up? Don't forget to check the serving size too. Compare food labels between products and look for the label with the lowest sodium.
  • Look for the Heart-Check mark on products to easily identify those that meet the American Heart Association's guidelines for a low sodium food.
  • Know the "Salty Six;" the six common foods that may contain excess sodium: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches.

Now here's your challenge:

Over the course of 3 weeks, you can reduce your sodium intake from everyday foods by following the weekly mini-challenges below. You'll be focusing on reading labels and reducing your intake of sodium from the "Salty Six." By taking it one step at a time, at the end of 3 weeks, you will have significantly reduced your sodium intake!

Week 1: Reduce your sodium intake from Breads and Rolls + Cold Cuts and Cured Meats
  • Compare food labels and look for lower sodium items
  • Track your sodium consumption in a food log
  • See how you've progressed by logging how much sodium you've shaved out of your diet.

Week 2: Reduce your sodium intake from Pizza + Poultry
  • If you do eat pizza, make it one with less cheese and meats (cured meats like pepperoni, sausage and bacon are high in sodium)
  • Add veggies to your pizza instead
  • Use fresh poultry rather than fried, canned or processed. Take it one step further and compare labels on fresh poultry too--broth containing sodium is often added.

Week 3: Reduce your sodium intake from Soups + Sandwiches
  • One cup of soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium. Look for lower sodium options (also check serving size).
  • Easily make your own batch of soup on the stove or in the crockpot. Make leftovers to freeze for a convenient meal later.
  • Use lower sodium meats, cheeses and condiments and plenty of vegetables to build healthier sandwiches. Many deli meats are offered in low-sodium varieties. "Natural" cheeses, like cheddar, are often lower in sodium than American cheese or other processed cheeses.

If you decide to take the challenge, keep me informed of what you find out and how you're doing! What surprises you along the way? Can you notice a difference in the way you feel? Post a comment below!

Download the "Change Your Salty Ways" challenge poster here (from the American Heart Association).

You can also participate in the Sodium Swap challenge on Facebook.