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Published February 11, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Please don’t pass the salt, or enchiladas, or...

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

It’s come to this.

I can’t even dine out at my favorite Mexican restaurant without being reminded that I am not what I used to be.

As a long-time sufferer of acid reflux, I am accustomed to eating restrictions. But now I am also counting milligrams of sodium.

At my cardiologist’s urging, I made a New Year’s resolution to lower my blood pressure by cutting back on sodium. No more shrimp enchiladas or beef fajitas for me.

Eating out is a challenge for those of us on low-sodium diets and Mexican restaurants are no exception, particularly when you’re eating with someone like my wife who has neither acid reflux nor a blood pressure problem.

She deserves a night out, however. Taking care of a disabled husband and cooking meals for someone like me is difficult.

I prepared for the evening out by inspecting the menu online in advance to find entrees with the lowest sodium content. First, however, I need to get past the chips and salsa.

To avoid temptation, I push the chips out of reach. While munching some chips, Miss Perfect Health mumbles her objections and moves them back. As a compromise, she volunteers to slap my hand if it moves toward the chips.

The best entrée option for me is a salad with chicken added. When it comes, I reconnoiter the ingredients, looking for items with that nasty sodium.

My wife grabs the bacon (sodium).

I take off the cheese (sodium).

The tomatoes go, too (reflux and sodium).

Oh, no, not the black olives! (sodium).

That leaves some avocado (it stays regardless), lettuce and the chicken.

Oh, yeah … and the ranch salad dressing. A typical serving of ranch dressing accounts for 10-15 percent of the daily recommended amount of sodium a person should consume. In the good old days, I always asked the server for extra and poured the dressing over the salad.

Now I order it on the side. I’ve become a dipper.

My cardiologist had been pushing me to lower my blood pressure even though I didn’t think it was that bad. Before starting my diet, the voice on my blood pressure monitor said my blood pressure was sometimes “high normal” and other times “mild hypertension.”
My cardiologist said it was important to reduce sodium intake because I wasn’t getting the exercise I once did now that I am in a wheelchair.

He also pointed out that revised guidelines mean that if you didn’t have high blood pressure before, there’s a good chance you do now.
Guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and nine other health organizations lowered the numbers for the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and higher for all adults.
Previous guidelines set the threshold at 140/90 for people younger than age 65 and 150/80 for those ages 65 and older.

This means 70 percent to 79 percent of men ages 55 and older are now classified as having hypertension.

That includes me.

I am proud of myself so far. I couldn’t have done it without my wife’s help, but by eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding convenience foods, frozen meals, cold cuts, soups and flour tortillas, I have lowered my blood pressure.

I left the Mexican restaurant without grabbing a handful of chips on the way out. I checked my blood pressure the next morning, and it was 110/66.

I can’t wait to see my cardiologist again.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)