Time to get Heart Smart about Sodium

Monday, February 7, 2011

February is American Heart Month and it has nothing to do with Valentine's Day. Since 1963, Congress has required the president to proclaim February "American Heart Month" to raise public awareness about heart disease.

One of the major risks for heart disease is having too much sodium in your diet which can increase blood pressure and raise the risk for not only heart disease but also stroke and kidney disease. Heart disease and stroke are the nation's first and third leading causes of death.

Recently, sodium has been in the news a lot and not for good reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Americans on average get over 3400 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. That is nearly twice what is currently recommended by the new Dietary Guidelines which were released on Jan. 31, 2011.

What are the recommendations? In general healthy individuals should try to consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Older individuals and those with hypertension should try to consume less than one-half teaspoon of salt per day. This is not an easy task to achieve since the bulk of sodium that most people consume comes not from salt they add at the table but is already in the food they eat, which is packaged, processed store-bought items or from restaurants.

In order to decrease the levels of sodium they consume, people need to prepare more of their own foods and make selections from fresh ingredients so they can have more control over the amount of sodium in the foods they eat.

Lower your sodium threshold. Our preference for salty foods is something we learn, which means that over time you can reduce your cravings for salty foods. When you lower your preference for salt, you open yourself up to appreciating a wider range of flavors and food combinations. To help decrease the amount of salt, try using more pepper or other sodium free herbs and spices.

Try adding fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes (dried beans, lentil, split peas) into your diet more often. Experiment with adding salt-free herbs and spices into your favorite recipes.

Ninety percent of the sodium we consume is in the form of salt. Sea salt is often marketed as being a healthier alternative to table salt. The fact is that nutritionally there isn't any significant difference. By weight, they both have about the same amount of sodium chloride. In other words, sea salt is still salt. No matter which one you prefer because of taste or texture the sodium content is virtually the same and you need to reduce the amount to a healthy level.

Food labels are your friend! Take time to check the nutrition labels on the foods you buy. Become aware of foods that contain high amounts of sodium and find alternatives or consume these items in smaller amounts or less often.

For more information about nutrition and recommended levels of sodium for a healthy diet, call the Putnam County Office of the Purdue Extension Service and consider attending a special day long health conference on March 16that is being co-sponsored by the Putnam County Health Coalition, Purdue Extension and the Putnam County Hospital. The health conference, which is part of the local observance of National Nutrition Month will be held at the Putnam County Hospital. The cost of the day long program which will include lunch is $5. Reservations are necessary and can be made by calling the Purdue Extension Service at 653-8411.

Check our website www.extension.purdue.edu/putnam to view the most up to date info. You can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 653-8411 for more information regarding column topics or to RSVP for upcoming events. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs. While many publications are free, some do have a fee. All times listed are Eastern Time.

Upcoming Events

Feb. 7 -- EH Leader Lesson "Eat THIS, Not THAT" Extension Office, 1 p.m.

Feb. 8 -- Junior Leader Meeting, County Annex, 7-8 p.m.

Feb. 8 -- Growing Green Vegetables Series starts in Putnam

Feb. 8 -- Indiana Forage Council, state meeting/program, Fairgrounds, 4-9 p.m.

Feb. 14 -- Back to Basic Novice Livestock series begins, 6 p.m.

Feb. 15 -- Winter No-Till Meeting, Spencer In

Feb. 19 -- Putnam 4-H Beef Weigh-in, Fairgrounds

Feb. 24 -- Program Planning meeting for Ext. Homemakers at Extension Office 7 p.m.

Feb. 26 -- Putnam County Master Gardener Advanced Training Seminar - Fairgrounds

Feb. 28 -- Extension Office Open House, 4-7 pm

Mar. 10 -- Junior Leader Meeting, Fairgrounds, 7-8 pm

Mar. 12 -- Putnam County Ag Day Breakfast/Farmfest, Fairgrounds, 8 am - Noon