Are You Inadvertently Raising Your Heart Disease Risk?

Many people know that eating a lot/too much salt increases blood pressure and heart disease risk. I never paid much attention to this warning because I don’t over-salt my food and don’t even care for salty snacks.

I thought I was in the clear.

I was wrong.

It was while writing my new book, The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan: 4 Weeks to Cut Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health, that I found I was inadvertently increasing my heart disease risk with salt. Millions of Americans (including me) unintentionally eat far too much salt because of prepared/processed food and restaurants. Here’s what I learned and included in my book:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that “More than 75 percent of sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods—not the salt shaker.” This is vital, because too much salt leads to high blood pressure, and having both high blood pressure and high cholesterol significantly increases heart disease risk. The AHA recommends the following amounts: No more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day for most adults. Ideally, no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.”

After a lot of research, I found that almost any meal you eat out will nearly guarantee you’ll go over 2,300 mg of salt in a day.

Sheesh.

The CDC posted this infographic highlighting the highest-salt foods in restaurants (in my book I include a list of what to order/not order at popular chain restaurants). The CDC advises both cooking at home more often and asking about sodium when eating out. While the ranges on the “Top 6” of this chart vary widely, it’s a safe bet to assume salt levels for most restaurant food you’ll encounter will be at the middle or high end, so it’s important to ask about salt in the preparation.
Reducing Sodium: From Menu to Mouth. Excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, a major contributor to heart disease and stroke. Home prepared meals have less sodium than meals prepared in fast food or sit down restaurants. What Can You Do? Ask for sodium content before ordering, or check online before eating out. Home prepared meals have less sodium per calorie than meals prepared in fast food or sit down restaurants, on average.Food from fast food restaurants contains 1,848 mg sodium per 1,000 calories, on average. Food from sit-down restaurants contains 2,090 mg sodium per 1,000 calories, on average. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg/day, and about 6 in 10 adults should further limit sodium to 1,500 mg/day*. Choose wisely to stay under 2,300 mg**. Top 6 Sources of Sodium from Restaurant Foods1,2: 1. 170 to 7,260mg sodium per sandwich. 2. 393 to 4,163mg sodium per slice of pizza containing meat. 3. 200 to 2,940 mg per burger. 4. 62 to 7,358 mg sodium per chicken entrée). 5. 250 to 4,870 mg per Mexican entrée. 6. 4 to 4,530 mg sodium per salad)* *Refers to those age 51 and older, and those of any age with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. ** Averages are for 2012–2013. 1 IOM Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. 2 Sodium content was determined using MenuStat.org. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While I like to cook, sometimes (often) I don’t have the time or energy, so for me seeing pizza on this list was distressing. For years, I’ve thought my non-meat pizza, “light on the cheese” was a relatively heart-healthy choice, but both pizza dough and jarred sauces are/can be quite high in sodium.

When you are craving pizza and have the time to make it at home, try a homemade pizza. An easy, quick, delicious whole-wheat pizza is a great lower-salt option, with an extra bonus that it’s higher in cholesterol-lowering fiber than ‘regular’ pizza. Get the easy recipe and read more about how traditional pizza dough has DOUBLE the salt of whole-wheat pizza dough in my post, Whole Wheat Vegetarian Pizza.

And next time you are combing a restaurant menu for a low cholesterol (low in saturated fat) option, also check on salt levels. You may have to ask your server for lower salt options, but that’s a small price to pay for not exceeding the recommended daily salt intake in a single meal!

Rockridge Press has published The Low Cholesterol Cookbook & Action Plan in both traditional book and electronic formats. Click links below to link to the book on Amazon:

Paperback The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan: 4 Weeks to Cut Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health

Kindle:  The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan: 4 Weeks to Cut Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health

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Oatmeal vs Lox

Calling all oatmeal lovers: what’s your favorite way to prepare oatmeal?

Ever since I admitted in my last post to ditching oatmeal and falling back into my bagel-and-lox habit, the guilt is getting to me.

Actually, all of my lo-co eating habits are out of whack. Yesterday I hit Wendy’s again while driving home from the 8th HS Baseball game in 2 weeks. Of course I had no menu planned and frankly, I was too tired from shivering in the wind for 3+ hours per game to make any.

So I decided the easiest way to get back into eating lo-co was to focus on breakfast (at least I’m now spinning 2x a week so all’s not TOTALLY lost, lo-co-wise). Because dinners are so not happening right now – and baseball season has only just begun.

So, breakfast. I know I should be eating oatmeal, the cholesterol-lowering superfood. But I love my half-bagel-with-lox. So I need to know: do I really need to give up my lox-every-day habit? Is it that bad for me? Or can I have oatmeal a few days a week and still have my bagel and lox some (most?) other days?

To decide, I researched lox. Frankly, I was hoping to find that lox is a healthy choice (and maybe I’d just add oatmeal cookies to my diet?) It seemed rational: I mean, lox is smoked salmon, and that’s chock full of fish oil and healthy protein, so it should be healthy. Right?

The answer is, yes… kind of.  But lox has issues, which I guess I knew. But I was all hold-my-hands-over-my-ears about them.

It turns out that lox does indeed deliver good-for-you omega 3 fatty acids and lean protein. Which is great, but I had no idea lox also packed a big sodium punch.  Truly, no idea. Despite how the divine salty taste mingles with the sweet, cream cheese.

See above monkey-hear-no-evil mien.

A 3 ounce serving of lox has 1700-2000 mg of sodium. Eat that much lox every morning and you’d be over the USDA guideline of 1500 mg of sodium by 8am! Lox nutritional info is not easy to find online; for details, read here and here.

Luckily, I eat far less lox on my bagel than most – I roughed it out to about 0.6 ounces, which is 1 small slice – every morning. Still, that drops 350-400 mg of sodium into my system along with my decaf hazelnut coffee (with Silk Soy Creamer and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, thank you very much.)

So lox has far too much salt than is good for me daily. And here I was thinking I eat a low sodium diet because I never add salt to anything.

In “The Risks of Eating Smoked Salmon,” health writer Jeffrey Traister explains that in addition to the high sodium, ingesting lox potentially exposes you to chemicals that can cause cancer, and lox can be infected with the dangerous bacteria, listeria. He advises:

“Minimize your risk by eating smoked salmon less often, eat foods with low sodium content on days you consume the fish, eat small amounts to reduce exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons and eat it shortly after purchase to lower risk of listeriosis.”

Sufficiently freaked out, I will be eating cereal while I search for delicious ways to simply prepare great tasting oatmeal.

Recipes, anyone?

Illustrations by Christine Juneau.

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