Worried about salt intake

All Woman

Dear Donovan,

My blood pressure is on the high end of normal, but I don't have high blood pressure yet. I am 49 years old and 150 pounds at 5'7”, and I am a bit worried since I don't want to be saddled with medical issues. Should I be cutting back on salt? How much salt should I be having daily, and what can I do to reduce my sodium levels, yet still have my food tasting good? I don't eat a lot of packaged foods but I certainly love to chow down on my traditional Jamaican meals.

Elevated blood pressure means that your blood pressure is slightly above the normal range. This is not good because elevated blood pressure can worsen and develop into high blood pressure (hypertension). Both elevated blood pressure and hypertension increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Any factor which increases the blood pressure against the artery can lead to elevated blood pressure.

A build-up of plaque in the arteries(atherosclerosis) is a major factor. Overall, the major risk factors for elevated blood pressure as well as hypertension include being overweight, age, gender, race, family history of hypertension, consuming high salt (sodium) diet, not being physically active, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and certain chronic diseases like kidney disease and diabetes. It is very important to note that an elevated blood pressure doesn't normally cause symptoms and I would therefore suggest that you keep a check on your blood pressure readings on a regular basis. If you don't have a blood pressure machine, it might be a good idea to get one. It is also important at this stage that you make some lifestyle changes. The general suggestion to treat your elevated blood pressure includes eating healthy meals, using less salt, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.

I see where you are very concerned about your salt intake and you should be. Regular table salt (sodium chloride) is about 40 per cent sodium. Sodium and potassium are the two main minerals which play an important role in how the body regulates blood pressure. If you consume too much sodium and too little potassium it is possible that your blood pressure could become elevated or even high. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day. In addition, an ideal amount of 1,500 mgs per day can improve both blood pressure and health.

Salt preference is an acquired taste and it normally takes about six to eight weeks to get used to food with lower salt content. Again, with your elevated blood pressure there is a definite need to reduce your salt intake and at the same time eat some of the foods you love.

Here are a number of things I would suggest. Firstly, I would suggest that where possible you prepare your own food. In this way you will know how much salt you put in your meals. In addition, it is also good to read the labels on the foods you are eating. Also, when possible, buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. In this way you will start off with foods low in salt. If you have to eat processed or canned foods it is always best to rinse off the food to reduce the salt content. Adding natural spices like onion, garlic and ginger can also reduce the need for salt. It is better to use garlic powder rather than garlic salt. In some cases it might also be possible to have part of your regular meal being salty and the other partly fresh, or unsalted. For example, if you are cooking stew peas with rice you could make the stew peas with regular salt and the rice fresh or unsalted, instead of having both rice and stew peas being salted. Overall, reducing your portion size of salty meals could also be helpful in reducing your salt intake. Good luck.

We will answer your weight-related questions

Are you struggling to lose weight or just need some advice on living a healthier life? Tell us about your health issues and we'll have nutritionist and wellness coach Donovan Grant answer them for you. Grant has over 12 years' experience in the fitness industry and is the owner of DG's Nutrition and Wellness Centre, 39 Lady Musgrave Road. Call him at 876-286-1363. E-mail questions to clarkep@jamaicaobserver.com.

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