I’m going to have a major operation tomorrow: a hip replacement. I have had to go off of blood thinners and stop taking various supplements – like glucosamine for mild arthritis and multivitamins – which can also thin the blood a bit. Meanwhile, a friend of mine was asked to start using a salt substitute (yuck!) This caused me to think long and hard about the lifestyle changes that can also lead to heart health.
GO LOW SODIUM: The typical American diet is simply rotten with excess salt. And I am not just talking about fast food; nicer restaurants usually add much more than we need. Plus it’s simply astounding how much sodium there is in most pre-made foods you can get at the grocery store. But you can cook simple salt-free or lower sodium things yourself. I try to keep my sodium under 600 mg a day. That’s almost impossible with pre-made foods but incredibly easy – and quick! – if you cook things yourself.
Here are some simple rules to follow.
(1) When shopping, read the label and check the sodium content before buying things. At first you’ll be shocked and horrified! Example: a simple can of green beans or corn usually has 1,000 mg of sodium, or more. Prepared spaghetti sauce is also shockingly sodium laden. Even raw chicken or turkey may have been “brined” – soaked in a salt water solution.
Beef jerky is actually preserved in salt and reading the label will tell you that jerky, like bacon and most salty snacks, is off the menu on a lower sodium diet. But lots of yummy things are on that menu, and chances are you’ll love them.
(2) Join an online low sodium or no salt cooking group. There are several.
(3) Attitude matters so treat low-sodium eating as an adventure. You’re on a quest to find new favorite foods and recipes. You’re not being held back – you’re exploring!
(4) Low salt does not mean no salt, so you can use a little but as you ramp down the amount your taste buds are used to you’ll be surprised how little it takes. Example: if you put the salt IN a stew or soup you need 1/3 of the amount you’d use if you put it ON those foods.
(5) Should you eat at a restaurant, your safest choices for low sodium are plain meats, simple breads, and salads with the dressing on the side. Be sure to let your server know that you want no extra salt added to your meal and be ruthless in sending things back if they come to your table coated with obvious salt. Example: Texas Roadhouse always rolls their plain baked potatoes in butter and then coarse salt. I sent my tater back for a salt-free one.
YOU’VE GOT TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT. No, I do not mean go to the gym or start jogging. Just…move more. I started cutting things up for cooking while standing instead of doing the work seated. I experimented with a standing desk. I asked my husband to let me be the one to go get the mail from our RFD mailbox on the street. I started walking through the grocery store to buy things instead of ordering things online. And I set a timer so that I would get up from my sedentary writing and editing work every hour and take a “stretch break” where I did a little housework or ran errands. It all adds up!
Moving is good for your heart. It’s also amazing for your lymphatic system, which does not have a circulatory system like your heart and is totally dependent on moving your muscles to make it flow.
DRINK MORE WATER because water flushes out excess sodium, and the proper balance between sodium and potassium in your bloodstream is necessary for heart health. Again, the typical American diet fails us here. We seem to be addicted to artificial sweeteners, caffeine, artificial colors, and alcohol.
Try this as an experiment. Try ordering something to drink in a restaurant that has no caffeine, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or booze. Usually, all that’s available is water, seltzer water with lemon or lime, juice, milk, decaf coffee, and maybe O’Doul’s. Good luck finding anything else to drink that’s healthy!
My aunt used to call water “Adam’s Ale” and wondered why we drank so little of it. She was right.
ROUGHAGE, FIBER, WHATEVER YOU CALL IT, Fruits and vegetables matter. And getting your “five a day for better health” is a bare minimum. (I always respond, “Only five?”)
Again, think of it as exploring. Try something new! I recently tried poblano peppers to make chilies rellennos. It was AMAZING. I also learned how to use fresh asparagus in a stir fry and tried star fruit for the first time.
THE SPICE MUST FLOW. Spices are a much heart-healthier way than salt to add flavors to your food. And I’m not just suggesting the tried and true low salt standby – Mrs. Dash (although it’s okay.) Again – experiment! Add cinnamon to your oatmeal, fresh-grated ginger to your stir fry, thyme to your beef stew, garlic to your broiled shrimp, oregano to your clam chowder, or Tabasco sauce to your omelet.
While you’re at it consider using not just squeezing lemon wedges on your fish — try squeezing a lime wedge instead. Lime is simply astounding on lobster and many fish dishes. I love lime squeezed on fish tacos.
In conclusion, eating foods that are heart healthy can be a culinary adventure. Go for it!