Published on October 5, 2021

The View from my Seat

Doctor’s orders: Stay away from salt, but it’s not that easy

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

A low-sodium rice cake.

Can you believe that is what I snacked on after working out?

No fast-food hamburger with cheese. No salad dripping in bleu cheese. No chips, cookies or peanut butter on crackers.

Just a hunk of 40 calories that tasted like cardboard.

My cardiologist, however, would be proud of me. The unsatisfying snack had only 1% of the daily recommended amount of sodium a person should consume each day.

A few days earlier, the cardiologist had scolded me about my high blood pressure.

According to my home blood pressure monitor, I usually have “high normal” or “mild hypertension.”

The measurement in my doctor’s office was well above those. I was shocked because I had been feeling fine. I guess that is why high blood pressure is called the “silent killer.”

The cardiologist convinced me it was time to get serious about my sodium intake.

After hearing words like “heart trouble” and “stroke,” I wasn’t that hard to convince.

I had tried a low-sodium diet before but had trouble sticking to it. This time I promised myself I would follow doctor’s orders.

To supplement the information from my cardiologist, when I got home, I did what every American does when they need health tips: I Googled. I entered “sodium diet” and “blood pressure” and started reading information from the Food and Drug Administration and the Mayo and Cleveland clinics.

I then ventured to the market to do some reconnoitering on what low-sodium options were available and that I might want to eat.

Here is what I found in my research:

NOT WHAT YOU THINK: The FDA says more than 70 percent of our sodium intake comes from eating packaged or prepared foods, not from salt added to food when cooking or eating.

THE CULPRITS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 40 percent of sodium consumed by Americans comes from deli meat sandwiches, pizza, burritos and tacos, soups, savory snacks like chips and crackers, poultry, burgers, pasta dishes and egg dishes.

DON’ T BE SURPRISED: Some foods you don’t think of as salty, like bread or cookies, can have a surprising amount of sodium.

READ THOSE PACKAGES: The Daily Values on labels are reference amounts of nutrients not to exceed each day. The Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.
That is about one teaspoon of salt. The American Heart Association says Americans on average eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day.

PLAY THE PERCENTAGES: The % Daily Value on labels shows how much of a nutrient contributes to a total daily diet.
As a general guideline, 5% DV or less of sodium per serving is considered low, and 20 percent per serving is considered high. My problem has been I often eat two servings, doubling the DV.

WHAT DO THEY MEAN? There are some sodium related terms that you may see on food packages. Sodium-free means there are less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving. Low sodium means there are less than 140 milligrams per serving.

DON’T BE MADE A SUCKER: Be careful about these labels. “Reduced” or “less sodium” means there is at least 25 percent less sodium than the usual sodium level. The catch, of course, is that the normal sodium level may be quite high to begin with.

It has been about a month since my visit to the cardiologist. Among other things, I have eliminated processed and cured meats from my diet, substituted whole grain pasta for the pre-seasoned kind, and avoided condiments and salad dressings.

I think my cardiologist will be pleased with the results.

Now the challenge will be sticking to the diet.

Excuse me. I need to go. I’m hungry, and it’s time for a rice cake.

(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)