Last June, when Tom and I had our annual check-ups, our blood pressure was way up. Tom has struggled with high blood pressure most of his life, but mine had always been normal. Our doctors instructed both of us to take our blood pressure regularly. I was also told to lose a little weight and Tom had to double his blood pressure medicine.
But we couldn’t figure it out. I know that blood pressure goes up as you get older, but we were retired (less stress) and getting more exercise than ever before. We were also eating healthier: lots of salads and fresh foods, wraps instead of sandwiches. So I started reading about high blood pressure and what we could do to lower it besides what the doctors told us.
In my readings I came across the dangers of sodium. Sodium (salt) is just as bad for us as sugar but is even more hidden in the foods we eat. Just about anything with flour has sodium. Anything canned or processed has lots of sodium as a preservative. Anything gluten-free has lots of salt to give it flavor. All the deli meat that we loved was high in sodium. And those healthy wraps – turns out each whole wheat tortilla had about 500 mg of sodium.
The American Heart Association recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as a healthy goal. Tom and I were easily ingesting 4000 mg of sodium per day and we weren’t adding salt to anything. So we started being sodium detectives and noticing the sodium in everything.
I went from wraps back to sandwiches with Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain bread that has 100 mg of sodium per slice. Tom really likes wraps, so he tried various things and read lots of labels until he found Flatout Flatbread. The Multigrain with Flax has 240 mg of sodium, half what he was eating in the tortilla and he limits himself to one every other day.
Our deli meat was another high sodium culprit so we started asking if there was a low sodium alternative. There is one brand that tends to be available in many grocery stores all over – Dietz and Watson. Their low sodium turkey breast is not only 1/4 the sodium of most deli turkey, it is also delicious. Their low sodium London broil means that I don’t have to give up roast beef. They don’t use any fillers, preservatives, or MSG. Dietz and Watson costs a little more, but their products are definitely worth it.
Cheese was another high sodium item that we never thought about. We had been eating Pepper Jack or Cheddar which are both very high in sodium. Turns out the only low sodium cheese we have been able to find is Sargento’s Baby Swiss. But that’s okay – we like baby swiss cheese and Sargento’s is easy to find. This cheese has 1/3 the sodium of cheddar or pepper jack.
Another area where we had to change how we ate was in canned foods. I really like soup, especially Campbell’s Homestyle chili on cold days. Turns out it is one of the highest sodium foods you can find. And Tom loved baked beans from a can. He would often get Van Camp’s Beanee Weenees and eat them for a light supper or lunch. When we started reading labels, he noticed that one serving of Beanee Weenees was 670 mg of sodium. Then he noticed the more astonishing fact – there were supposed to be two servings in a can! When he thought he was eating light, he was actually eating 1340 mg of sodium! No wonder our blood pressure was high.
Until we can find a homemade recipe for baked beans that is low in sodium, baked beans are a thing of the past. I have, however, found a delicious alternative to the Campbell’s soup: Amy’s Low in Sodium Organic Soups and Health Valley Organic No Salt Added. Both are available at Anderson’s here in Columbus and online if I can’t find them in local stores in our various locations. Amy’s Chili is good but doesn’t taste much like the chili I am used to. Tom said it tastes like it needs salt! I really like the Health Valley Organic No Salt Added Minestrone and will continue to enjoy that on cold days. It only had 50 mg of sodium! There are several other varieties of these soups I haven’t tried yet and I am looking forward to savoring them.
We will be reading nutrition labels for the foreseeable future, especially as we continue to travel and try different brands. When we went to the doctors in December, our blood pressures were back to normal! Definitely a relief for both of us that will keep us on the low sodium path as we strive for healthy and joy-filled living.