‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’ (DASH) advocates a diet well suited for controlling hypertension. It emphasizes on having a diet rich in fiber-filled whole grain foods, greens and salads, fruits, beans and nuts. It recommends reducing sodium intake, eliminating trans-fatty acids and saturated fats, substituting meat with poultry and fish, having low-fat or no-fat dairy products and taking meals in moderately sized servings. DASH diet is recommended by USDA and well-known medical centers like Mayo Clinic for controlling high blood pressure. Research has shown that DASH helps in controlling obesity and hypertension and in reducing cholesterol and risks of developing heart diseases.
When implementing the DASH regimen, people generally place emphasis on controlling the intake of simple carbohydrates and fats. But sodium intake in the form of salt is frequently overlooked. Salt is a big contributor to problems like hypertension – it causes fluid retention in the body and increases the blood pressure. It can also affect the kidney and liver.
When I was diagnosed with mild arthritis related to mildly elevated blood pressure, I realized that excess salt was hurting. I used to suffer from frequent episodes of ache in the knee and wrist joints. I was always moderate in my fat and carbohydrate intake. So I was asked to control my salt intake. A normal diet should include less than one teaspoon of salt per day. When I studied my diet, I realized that mere snacks added to this amount – salted nuts like cashew nuts, pistachios, peanuts, etc. although roasted in trans-fat free low-fat oil were adding significant amount of sodium to the body. Low-fat chips and pop-corn were other offenders. Food labels on products showed that from cereals to bread, practically everything I consumed contained salt although it was not obvious from their taste.
So I decided to switch to a low-sodium diet by eliminating some snacks and including healthy low-sodium/no-sodium foods in my diet. Here are some tips you may find useful:
– Avoid canned foods. They use salt as a preservative. Buy fresh/frozen vegetables, poultry, fish, meat, etc. There are low sodium options in canned foods too – for example, V8 offers vegetable juice with limited salt content.
– When preparing your meals, reduce the amount of salt you usually add. Replace with other spices/condiments/herbs for flavoring – try pepper, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, etc. Avoid instant pasta, cereal mixes which generally have significant salt content.
– When looking for snacks, go with the no-salt/low-salt options. Pop you own corn add just a little salt for flavor. Go with unsalted nuts. Moderate intake of chips.
– Use fruits/fruit juices or no-salt protein/heath bars for a hunger-bite.
– Always read food labels and do not keep the salt-shaker on your dining table.
I took a few days to get adjusted to the new low-sodium diet. With a little practice, I did not feel like I was compromising on taste. Within 3-4 weeks, I started feeling healthier. My arthritic flares have diminished to one occurrence in 3-4 months and blood pressure readings are completely normal since controlling my salt intake.