Why February is the cruelest month: The Salt Project

Somebody please get me a margarita. Quick. But hold the salt.

According to a new federal report, people like me–over 51, with high blood pressure–should limit their salt consumption to 1500 milligrams a day.  That’s about half a teaspoon.

In dietary guidelines jointly released yesterday, the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services said that that older adults, African-Americans, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should consume half as much salt as that recommended for the general population.

I’m gobsmacked, as my friend Jo would say. My blood pressure is too damn high–even with medication–and I’ve been toying with the idea for a few months that, well, maybe I ought to drastically reduce my sodium intake, or at least find out how much salt I’m really getting. I had even mentioned this to Jo last week over a burger and fries (after a rigorous day of ice climbing, of course. And no, I didn’t salt the fries!)

Her dad had high blood pressure, and he died prematurely of a heart attack. She didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. Thanks, Jo, me neither!

It’s not that I’m unaware or totally careless in my consumption.  I order my margaritas “without salt” and I buy lower sodium foods–soups and crackers–when I can.  The trouble is the prepared/snack/convenience/fast foods I eat in great quantity, which have tons of hidden sodium. That government report has a handy multi-colored pie chart detailing the major dietary sources of sodium, and it reads like my weekly food log: yeast breads, pizza, chicken dishes, pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments (hello soy sauce!), cheese, beef dishes, rice dishes, burgers, and something called “grain based desserts”–pies, cakes and cookies. In other words, my basic diet.

Clearly, this is a mandate for a nutrition overhaul.  I need to get a handle on my salt consumption, and then cut it. So here’s the plan: Starting February 1, I’m going to track my blood pressure for one month, and the sodium content of everything I eat. The first week I’ll eat “normally,”  without making any dramatic changes, so I can get a baseline. Starting with Week 2, I’ll start dialing down the sodium, and see if my blood pressure changes.

I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me I’m going to have to eat more fresh foods and do more home-cooking to get this to work. That’s why February is going to be the cruelest month–especially with all of the travel on my calendar. But I figure my heart is worth it. Besides, I’m kind of tired of those icky sock marks on my ankles.

Now, about that margarita. It’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right?

About Dara Miles

Journalist, mom, runner, cyclist, climber and recovering lawyer.
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