There are ways to live a life with normal blood pressure by making smart food choices. In case you hadn't guessed it, getting away from processed, pre-packaged foods is the key. Below are food choices to help your low-sodium decisions. Everything discussed below assumes the raw/fresh food itself with no added salt or salt-containing seasoning.
Fruits & Vegetables - any and all...consume as much as you want and ideally, these should comprise the bulk of your diet.
Grains, Breads, & Cereal
Grain products often make up the majority of people's diets. As such, things like corn, rice, oats, potatoes, and breads have become known as food "staples." Whole and less processed varieties have no sodium. For instance, rolled oats that you have to actually cook has 0 mg of sodium:
whereas instant oatmeal has significant sodium content:
The same is true for breads and cereals. Processing foods for long shelf lives requires the use of many sodium based preservatives.
Meat, Fish, & Shellfish
All meats contain a certain amount of naturally occurring sodium. The sodium content of the fresh meat itself (before adding any seasonings) is relatively low, with the exception of shellfish. The San Francisco Chronicle has a great write-up on the naturally occurring sodium content of meats:
If one eats a high protein diet with a lot of meat consumption, learning to appreciate the flavor of meats cooked without a lot of added sodium is key to maintaining a healthy sodium intake level.
Dairy & Eggs
Dairy products in general contain a relatively high amount of sodium per serving. Dairy products that have been processed to remove some or all of the fat content (skim milk, low fat cheese, etc) typically have salt added to them to help offset the loss of flavor when removing the fat so, from a sodium intake perspective, these are actually worse for you than the full-fat varieties. Full-fat whole milk contains ~100mg sodium per 8 oz serving, whereas skim milk contains ~120mg sodium per serving. Greek yogurt contains 50-70mg sodium per serving, whereas regular yogurt contains 90-120mg sodium per serving.
Cheese, in particular, has a high sodium content by design since the entire art of cheesemaking emerged as a way to preserve the milk product for long time periods. There are lower sodium varieties of cheeses (called "fresh" cheeses) but these don't have the same texture as regular cheese and take some getting used to when cooking with them. I've used fresh mozzarella when making low sodium lasagna. There are also lower sodium versions of Ricotta and Cottage cheeses (both fresh cheeses).
Eggs also contain sodium...~70 mg for 1 whole large egg and ~55mg for just the whites.
I addressed these in my email posted in my last blog entry:
"The key is letting go of convenient, pre-packaged foods. Even though a given pre-packaged food product may not be "salty" it still probably has a high sodium content due to additives & preservatives like sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, sodium bisulfate, disodium EDTA, sodium benzoate, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, sodium gluconate, pantothenic acid (sodium pantothenate), pectin (sodium pectinate), sodium tartrate, and the list goes on. Read your food labels...these things are often present, sometimes in abundance, in most all pre-packaged foods."
One must be wary of anything sold in a box, bag, or can in a modern grocery store. Items, such as condiments, that have long shelf lives are typically chock full of sodium and other preservatives that make them dangerous to consume on a heart healthy diet.
As mentioned above, food processing was originally done to help lengthen the shelf life of foods for various reasons. I've spent a lot of time over the past decade looking for low- or no-sodium varieties of processed foods and list some of the items I've found to taste good and are a very welcome part of my low-sodium diet. The website http://healthyheartmarket.com is a wonderful resource for finding low- and no-sodium versions of the things we love (such as condiments) that are typically high in sodium. Below is a list of my favorite low- & no-sodium processed foods:
- Krema/Crazy Richard's All Natural Peanut Butter - 0mg sodium per serving - http://crazyrichards.com
- Bragg Vinaigrette Salad Dressing - 60mg sodium per 2 tbsp serving - http://bragg.com/products/bragg-organic-vinaigrette-olive-oil-vinegar-salad-dressing.html
- Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats - 0mg sodium per serving - https://www.frostedminiwheats.com/en_US/our-products.html
- Malt-O-Meal Frosted Mini Spooners - 0mg sodium per serving - http://www.maltomeal.com/product/frosted-mini-spooners/
- Larabar ALT Protein Bars - 10mg sodium per bar - http://shop.larabar.com/ALT-PROTEIN/c/LaraBar@Alt
- Ezekiel Low Sodium Bread - 0mg sodium per slice - http://www.foodforlife.com/product/breads/ezekiel-49-low-sodium-sprouted-whole-grain-bread
Obviously, making the majority of your diet composed of fresh, unprocessed foods is the best way to help control your blood pressure, but by shopping smart, you can also incorporate some processed foods at a very reasonable hit to your sodium intake. If this will be your first foray into eating a lower sodium diet, you will have to give your palate time to adjust as salt is a natural flavor enhancer so eating foods without much added sodium will make things taste bland at first. After getting your blood pressure to normal levels naturally though will more than offset the flavor you miss in the beginning.