The World Health Organization suspects the rise in processed foods is partially to blame for the world-wide increase in hypertension – that is, high blood pressure, a condition that affects approximately 85 million people in the United States.
Since hypertension drugs like Benicar can have serious side effects, prompting many to pursue legal action, it makes sense to do what you can to naturally lower your blood pressure. The biggest culprit with respect to processed food appears to be that one ingredient that has become almost an obscenity: sodium.
Identifying High-Sodium Foods
Processed foods often contain excess sodium, and it tends to increase increase blood pressure for many people. While the daily recommended amount of sodium for the average adult is 2,300 milligrams per day, the average American consumes over 3,400 milligrams per day.
Sodium is most commonly found in table salt, but there are many other everyday foods that are high in sodium as well, including condiments, sauces, breakfast foods, and even canned and frozen vegetables. Refer to the chart below for a list of the most common types of high-sodium foods and ingredients.
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Canned soup
- Canned vegetables (carrots, corn, etc.)
- Chips (potato, corn, etc.)
- Cottage cheese
- Deli meats (ham, turkey, salami, etc.)
- French fries
- Frozen vegetables
- Hot dogs
- Milk and dairy products
- Processed cheese
- Salad dressings
- Soy sauce
- Tomato sauce / pasta sauce
Before purchasing, look for compounds that contain sodium on the food label. These include “ingredients” like monosodium glutamate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium alginate, and many others. Also look for anything that contains added salt.
Now, let’s looks at some specific examples of high-sodium foods.
Ham, turkey, salami, and roast beef slices are not helping the battle with hypertension. Many of these meats are cured, seasoned, and preserved with salt. A two-ounce serving could pack away over 600 milligrams of sodium. Two slices of dried salami could have 362 milligrams of sodium.
If you are craving a sandwich, try going for a lower-sodium option that is fresher with fewer preservatives. Use leftovers from a roasted or baked dinner – it will taste better and be healthier for you!
Frozen Meals (Including Pizza)
Frozen meals – and especially frozen pizzas – are easy to make, but very dangerous from a health perspective. All pizza is hard on sodium, but frozen pizza is even worse, with a single slice of frozen pizza having over 1,000 milligrams of sodium on average.
The reason these meals are so bad is that manufacturers add more salt to preserve the flavor through freezing and cooking. If you like a thick crust piled high with cheese and meats, you can bet the sodium content will be higher.
Frozen dinners are pretty bad as well. For example, a 5-oz. frozen turkey and gravy dinner can have as much as 1,255 milligrams of sodium. Instead of turning to frozen dinners, cook a turkey on your own and then freeze portions for easy heating later!
Canned soup makers really know how to pack in the salt and preservatives. Even broth carries more than its fair share of salt.
A single serving of canned soup can have as much as 890 milligrams of sodium, and many people may not realize that a can of soup is usually intended for at least two servings. If you have a whole can of soup, you could be looking at up to 2,000 milligrams of sodium – nearly the recommended amount for an entire day.
If you like soup, you are better off making your own. Use the leftover trimmings from vegetables you cut throughout the week to make a healthy, low-sodium broth, then add your favorite fillings. If you enjoy using a crockpot, you can make a large amount at once for the whole family, and even freeze some of it for later.
Canned, Bottled, or Pickled vegetables
Pickles and pickled vegetables are literally filled with salt, as they are soaked in brine (in a salt solution) that helps to preserve the food. And there’s a reason why that jar of pickles in your pantry has a really long expiration date: the longer they sit, the more salt they absorb. A single dill pickle spear may contain 300 milligrams of sodium.
Also, it’s important to be careful of vegetable-based “juices” that seem likely they should be really healthy. One cup of a vegetable juice cocktail like V8 can have 615 milligrams of sodium. If you really enjoy vegetable juice, investing in a juicer is a much healthier option.
Finally, don’t think you are automatically safe with canned fruits and veggies. Canned vegetables often have seasonings or salt added, while fruits tend to be canned in syrup, which is basically liquid sugar (and can also increase blood pressure).
Canned or Bottled Tomato Products
Whether diced, sliced, crushed, pureed, or sauced, canned and bottled tomato products are notoriously deceptive for hiding sodium. A half-cup serving of marinara sauce can have 450 milligrams of sodium, while a cup of tomato juice may have as much as 650 milligrams.
And don’t forget that ketchup. There’s plenty of sodium there, too, not to mention high-fructose corn syrup!
Seasoning blends are convenient because they have everything in one package or box – everything, that is, including a ton of salt and other sources of sodium. In fact, a single serving can provide as much as half the daily recommended sodium level.
When it comes to seasoning, experiment with using fresh herbs and spices – perhaps even try growing your own! It might take awhile to get it right, but half the fun of cooking is trying out new things. And in the long run it will be much healthier for you.
Pay Attention to Nutrition Labels
Whether you are trying to get a grip on hypertension or some other health issue, it is important to pay attention to product labels and understand where problems may lie.
With respect to sodium, look for foods that contain 5% or less of the recommended daily value, and by all means avoid foods that have more than 20% per serving. Be sure also to note the serving size – and then practice portion control when you eat!
Also, when it comes to heart health, you should make sure you are getting enough potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber, since these have all been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of all three.
Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels may be achievable with diet alterations and other lifestyle adjustments. The modifications may seem difficult, but a healthy heart is worth it.