I’ve been keeping an eye on my blood pressure these days. With a family history of hypertension, it just makes sense. And so far, my results are good. A while ago, I stopped at a local pharmacy and used their automated machine and saw a couple of readings heading into the high range. But more accurate readings have put it further down in the normal range, so that’s good.
But when I looked at my profile for hypertension risk factors, I was struck that there wasn’t a great deal I could do. The major risk factors for hypertension, according to the Mayo Clinic, are:
- Age. (Hypertension is more common in men around 45 or so, and becomes more common in women around 65)
- Race. (High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks)
- Family history.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Not being physically active.
- Using tobacco.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet.
- Too little potassium in your diet.
- Too little vitamin D in your diet.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
I do pretty well on most of these. But of the ones I can control, the one about sodium sticks out. As a man and a lover of food that I KNOW is bad for me, I know that I can be the author of my own hypertensive misfortune. Burgers, fries, onion rings, chicken wings — it would be foolish to pretend they don’t have a lot of sodium in there. But there are a ton of foods out there that you wouldn’t expect to have high sodium levels.
We often have pizzas on naan bread for a quick and easy weekday meal. On top, prosciutto, pears, brie, and basil. I knew the prosciutto would be high in sodium — after all, it’s a cured meat. But the naan bread itself has a surprising amount of sodium. Between those two ingredients, one naan pizza is likely delivering more than half my daily allowance of sodium.
Chicken breasts can be injected with brine during processing, increasing their sodium content drastically. A slice of process cheese might have 20% of your daily allowance of sodium!
If you have french fries, you expect them to be salty. But if you add a tablespoon or two of ketchup, you’re looking at 400 mg of sodium just in that!
And none of this counts restaurant or takeout food, which can be extremely high in sodium. You can see just how easy it would be to end up with more than your roughly 2,500 mg of sodium per day:
- 350 mg: a bowl of Raisin Bran.
- 870 mg: a bagel and cream cheese
- 1220 mg breakfast
- 1600 mg: 100 grams of deli ham on white bread with mustard.
- 1600 mg lunch
- 393 mg: baked chicken breast
- 418 mg: baked potato
- 460 mg: cup of canned peas
- 1271 mg supper
- 744 mg: 1/2 cup of salsa
- 420 mg: 24 tortilla chips
- 1164 mg snack
That’s a whopping 5255 mg of sodium, more than twice the recommended amount in a day, without a single shake of your salt shaker, without eating out, and with lots of things that seem healthy at first glance. (Sodium figures from the Fat Secret website)
You can’t change your age, your race, or your family history of hypertension. But if you start to track things like sodium, you do see where you can help prevent hypertension, or if you have it, improve it without resorting to drugs. And that’s a good thing.
(Pretzel photo is a CC-licenced image from Flickr user Jenn Durfey)