Issue 8 Stories
Eat Well Live Well

Hitting the Low Note for Sodium

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 400,000 deaths in the United States each year are attributed to hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in a healthy range is essential to good health, reducing the risk for having a stroke or developing cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer in this country.

With hypertension being such a widespread problem, blood pressure medicine is one of the top 10 most prescribed types of medication in the U.S. However, the condition is actually highly treatable without medication, just by making a number of lifestyle changes, including dietary adjustments, weight loss, smoking cessation, moderation of alcohol intake and regular daily exercise. In fact, a healthy vegetarian approach to eating has helped people get off their blood pressure medications completely. How cool is that?

Blood Pressure and Sodium

So what’s the deal with blood pressure, sodium and salt? Sodium, a mineral your body needs in small amounts, is actually the health culprit. Americans in general consume far too much sodium, primarily in the form of salt, thanks to processed foods and eating out frequently—and higher sodium intake can raise blood pressure levels.

How much sodium is too much? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest an intake of 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but the more aggressive guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest an intake of only 1,500 mg daily. Either way you slice it, those numbers are well below the 3,400 mg of sodium an average American consumes per day.

Today more than 70 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from foods already prepared for us by the manufacturer. Restaurant food as well is often heavily salted during preparation and cooking.

Lowering Your Sodium Consumption

Here are some tips for reducing the amount of salt and sodium in your diet to assist with good blood pressure control:

•     Make most meals at home from scratch. This gives you total control over the ingredients and preparation. For example, use unsalted diced canned tomatoes or no-salt-added tomato sauce to make your spaghetti sauce (40 mg sodium per ½ cup), rather than using ready-to-heat spaghetti sauce in a jar (500 mg per ½ cup).

•     Limit your use of convenience foods. Any food that comes in an “easy, just-add-water” version, such as instant oatmeal packets, likely will already be salted. For example, one instant oatmeal packet contains 300 mg sodium, whereas old-fashioned rolled oats don’t contain any sodium at all.

•     Be generous when flavoring with herbs and spices—they are usually sodium-free. A seasoned salt, however, is different. For example, 1 teaspoon garlic powder has 0 mg sodium, but 1 teaspoon garlic salt contains a whopping 1,960 mg sodium!

•     Use unsalted canned foods. Most canned vegetables can be found in an unsalted version. This is a great option to reduce your dietary sodium even further, but if you’re using canned vegetables that contain salt, give them a quick rinse before heating or adding to a dish. A ½ cup serving of regular canned green beans contains 400 mg sodium, but the unsalted version has a mere 10 mg sodium.

•     Plan meals around fruits; vegetables; grains; lean, fresh protein; and healthy fats. None of these, in the natural form, is high in sodium.

•     Consider baking from scratch. Quick breads such as muffins, biscuits and pancakes are high in sodium because the recipes include three ingredients that contain sodium: baking powder, baking soda and salt. For example, one canned biscuit contains 580 mg sodium. If you make these from scratch, you can at least omit the salt, using just the baking soda and/or baking powder. And if you cut out just ½ teaspoon of salt from a recipe, you will have taken out 1,163 mg of sodium.

•     When making sandwiches, use lower-sodium fillings. These include nut butters; hummus; homemade tuna, egg or chicken salad; or naturally aged cheeses such as Swiss cheese (35 mg sodium per ounce) or cheddar cheese (150 mg sodium per ounce). Processed meats almost always have lots of sodium—for instance, 1 ounce of deli ham can have as much as 900 mg sodium, and 1 ounce of deli turkey breast contains 500 mg sodium.

•     Make your own salad dressings. Homemade salad dressings are delicious and can be lower in sodium, if salt is not one of the main ingredients. If you stick with oil and vinegar, you will consume 0 mg sodium, as opposed to 150-250 mg sodium in 1 tablespoon of commercially prepared salad dressing.

Be sure to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s too high, watch your diet, including your sodium intake, and talk to your physician about what else you can do to bring it down.

For the latest guidelines and other information relating to blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association at

Join the FREE Heart Healthy Supermarket Smarts class, led by a Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital Registered Dietitian, at Giant Food in Charlottesville. The class schedule is available at


Homemade Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

Prep. time: 10 minutes


½ cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive or grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning blend

1/8 teaspoon white pepper


1.   Place all ingredients in a Mason jar that has a secure lid.

2.   Shake vigorously to combine all flavors. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving over your favorite vegetable salad.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries

Prep. time: 20 minutes; cook time: 20 minutes

Makes 4 servings


2 teaspoons butter/oil blend

3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup water or apple cider

1 cup cubed peeled Granny Smith apple

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts


1.   Melt butter blend over medium heat in a large skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Add squash; mix lightly to coat with butter blend.

2.   Add brown sugar, cinnamon and pepper; mix together. Add water or cider; cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

3.   Add apple and cranberries; mix to combine. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender.

4.   Add walnuts; mix gently to combine.

Honey-Dijon Mustard Dressing

Prep. time: 10 minutes


¼ cup fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries

(thawed and patted dry, if frozen)

¼ cup raspberry vinegar, red wine vinegar or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or corn oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

2 teaspoons minced shallot

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard


1.   Place all ingredients in a Mason jar that has a secure lid.

2.  Shake vigorously to combine all flavors. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving over your favorite vegetable salad.

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