“You Are Never Too Young to Start Heart-Healthy Living”

By Cate & Kate

We have talked about a couple of people who have been affected by heart complications in the recent past. These ladies in their 40s and early 50s were getting on with their normal lives. One died of a sudden heart attack and one is alive because the constant discomfort she felt caused her to search for answers, which resulted in medical intervention that saved her life. It is important to note that a heart attack can happen to even younger people. For example, statistics reported in an article published last year (September 2019) indicated a rise in heart attacks in people in their 40s, 30s and even 20s. One factor that can be a lifesaver is knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and these can be different for men and women.

Heart attack symptoms: Men vs. women

Squeezing chest pressure or pain
Jaw, neck or back pain
Nausea or vomiting
Shortness of breath

Chest pain, but not always
Pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
Jaw, neck or upper back pain
Nausea or vomiting
Shortness of breath
Extreme fatigue

As one scientist puts it, “preparation for a heart attack comes down to actively trying to prevent the heart attack by eliminating as many risk factors as possible.” This is in agreement with the advice from the American Heart Association encouraging us to do whatever we can to lower our risk of a heart attack – “because for many people, their first heart attack is disabling or even fatal.”

A heart attack happens when blood flow that supplies the heart with oxygen and nutrients is cut off, leading to death of the heart muscle. Usually the underlying culprit is atherosclerosis, a process by which plaque deposits in arteries causing them to narrow or causing a complete blockage as a result of plaque presence. This process of atherosclerosis takes place slowly, usually starting in childhood and showing no symptoms until a heart attack occurs. Granted, there are factors beyond one’s control that increase one’s chance of getting a heart attack, which include age, gender and heredity. Fortunately, there are several factors that we can control. These include, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, stress, exercise, diet and avoiding smocking or exposure to tobacco smoke.

American Heart Association advises that it is beneficial for a person to understand their risks for heart attack and then embark on heart attack prevention – this prevention should start early in life. We wrote Atherosclerosis Attack to provide a fun way for middle schoolers to learn about this important topic. The atherosclerosis story is told through the eyes of children and seeks to help other children understand why they need to start at a young age to work towards lowering their risk of a heart attack.

This book is also beneficial to the parents and care takers who want to help their loved young ones be proactive about preventing a heart attack. The reasons behind the need to start at a young age are presented in a story that children can identify with and would provide them with a clearer understanding of why they need to make certain dietary and lifestyle choices. To assist with learning about and executing healthy living, the book provides some great resources in the last chapter to help engage schools, students and parents. In addition to those resources, here we provide a few more tips and links to keep the family in an active role regarding prevention of chronic diseases.

Getting kids interested in healthy living: Using Pinterest, YouTube and other social media platforms, it is easy for parents to design an experiment that kids can do to actively engage in the science of healthy living.

How much sugar is in what you eat and drink? A food label lists the amount of sugar in a substance, but often 22 g or 12 g is not visualized well with kids or adults. Hence in this visual experiment, kids can measure the amount of sugar into baggies and see firsthand the amount of sugar in their favorite soda, juice or fruit.

Nimali Fernando, MD: In response to the growing rates of childhood obesity, pediatrician Nimali Fernando MD, MPH started the website https://doctoryum.org/ in 2011 to teach her patients and their families about the benefits of healthy eating. What started out as a recipe and parenting site, grew to a bigger project of teaching a healthy lifestyle to the greater community. You can check her website for webinars, recipes and other fun items that emphasize cooking as a whole family affair.

PBS Website: This website contains creative games that enable young kids to engage in healthy living and learn about the human body. It offers exciting games, printables, recipes and videos.  And best of all, it is free! The following links will show you examples of what you can find on the PBS website. https://pbskids.org/games/healthy-habits/ and https://pbskids.org/lunchlab/

CDC Website: This website contains a downloadable book with fun coloring pages, games and stickers that demonstrate healthy eating and regular activity. https://www.cdc.gov/family/kidheroes/index.htm

If you don’t already have a copy of Atherosclerosis Attack for your children or those in your care, we encourage you to get one from Amazon  or Barnes and Nobles and explore how you can help your children learn to be become a force against the unwelcome intruder of their bodies.

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Atherosclerosis is a Big Word Worth Knowing

By Cate Moriasi

One question I have heard several times in the last few weeks is, “Athero…….., how do you say that word?” That question has often come after someone says congratulations on getting your book published. Atherosclerosis Attack is a book we published to help middle school students learn about atherosclerosis through a story that they can identify with. Of course, we have received feedback that the book communicates the message about atherosclerosis well and would benefit readers of all ages.

When we decided to write this book, we knew that atherosclerosis is a big word, a difficult word, not an everyday word, a word that seems like it should belong on the spelling bee list. However, whether we know how to say this word or not, it is affected by decisions we make every day regarding how we take care of our bodies. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in your arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood. This leads to narrowing of the blood vessels and restricting the flow of blood to other parts of your body. Also, if a piece of the plaque breaks off, it gets carried by the blood, and gets stuck, completely blocking off blood supply leading to serious complications like a heart attack, stroke, or other conditions depending on which artery is blocked.

Even so, why is it important to bother children with a big word like atherosclerosis? The answer is, atherosclerosis is a disease that doesn’t develop overnight but over a life time. In fact, according to American heart association, atherosclerosis may start in childhood and progress rapidly for some people in their 30’s even though it usually doesn’t become dangerous until they are in their 50’s or 60’s. The danger is that atherosclerosis develops silently; for instance, someone may not have any symptoms until they have a heart attack. But atherosclerosis is preventable because it is very much affected by diet and exercise.

So hopefully you understand why we would like to make atherosclerosis a common word even for children. In reality, atherosclerosis is an everyday word whether we can pronounce it or not. This is because it is affected by the choices we make daily about what we put into our bodies, one meal at a time, and whether we choose a physically active lifestyle or not. Kate and I want to make this word part of children’s vocabulary because the best remedy against atherosclerosis is prevention – developing a preventative lifestyle. We believe it is possible to get children excited about knowing this big word, and having that knowledge can affect their diet and exercise choices. Children have a great imagination and a tremendous ability to learn, and we seek to give them reasons to learn and care about the big word, atherosclerosis.

My husband asked our son how he got into the spelling bee and his response was, “well, I was able to spell most of the words the teacher gave us, including the bonus word, cholesterol.” He was quite excited about being able to spell the word cholesterol that had become a part of his vocabulary because we often talk about it at home. The reasons other children might be interested in learning a big word like atherosclerosis might be different. But why not give children an opportunity to learn a word that prefers to remain a silent part of their daily lives even with the dangers it poses, dangers which need to be exposed for the long-term well-being of the children. If you don’t already have a copy of Atherosclerosis Attack for your children or those in your care, we encourage you to get one from Amazon  or Barnes and Nobles and explore how you can help your children learn to be become a force against the unwelcome intruder of their bodies.

Now, to help with the pronunciation, click on the following volume emoji 🔊. It should take you to the Merriam Webster dictionary and once there, click on the volume emoji to listen to the pronunciation of atherosclerosis \ ath·​ero·​scle·​ro·​sis \ a-thə-ˌrō-sklə-ˈrō-səs  

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Introducing Atherosclerosis Attack

By Cate Moriasi

Kate and I are excited to announce that our book, Atherosclerosis Attack, which we have talked about in some of our posts, is finally published and available on Amazon in paperback and kindle edition.

We have written this book for middle schoolers, using a story to teach them about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in one’s arteries, and depending on which artery is affected different complications can result. For example, a heart attack can result if the arteries that supply blood to the heart are affected. Atherosclerosis doesn’t occur overnight; it develops over many years and may start during childhood even though complications from atherosclerosis usually don’t manifest until later in life.

The good news is that atherosclerosis can be prevented or at least its progression slowed down because it is largely dependent on lifestyle choices such as diet and physical activity. Many adults are aware of the importance of adopting or maintaining a healthier lifestyle and are actively working towards it. However, many parents struggle to get their children to eat healthy and some give up because it’s a battle that is too difficult to fight.

Just imagine if children knew exactly how sugar negatively impacts their bodies, what would they do? I’m sure they will still want to consume that sugary item to satisfy their craving. However, they might be willing to work out a plan to help them balance their cravings with what they know they need to do for their well-being.  Many children hear their parents say certain things but the ‘aha’ moment might come from someone else saying the same thing.

Atherosclerosis Attack, is a science fiction book written to help children understand how a real disease, atherosclerosis, develops and how it can be prevented. The engaging and adventure-packed story will challenge young readers to think differently about what they eat and how that relates to a real disease. Using the story format that makes learning fun, we teach children about nutrition, exercise, cholesterol, and developing good habits that have the potential to last a lifetime. As children learn that life is full of choices, our hope is that the information they get out of this book would make it easier for them to make healthier choices. Our goal is to inspire children to take charge and be heroes of their own health.

This book was largely inspired by my then eight-year old’s interest in my atherosclerosis research. He saw images on my computer and asked what they were. I explained to him that they were pictures showing atherosclerosis in blood vessels of mice. His response was, “What? What did you say?” So, we worked on the big word but he kept asking questions, wanting to know more. After the explanation of how the nice-looking blood vessels belonged to mice that had eaten fish oil and the not-so-good-looking blood vessels belonged to mice that ate bad food, he asked if that could happen to people and I told him, “yes.” When he said he didn’t want atherosclerosis in his blood, I realized that a child had understood something I would never have expected him to understand. This book project came together when my friend and colleague said, without knowing my interaction with my son, that she would like to communicate science in a fun way to children.

Here is a short description of the book. “Twelve-year-old Victor Valens and his eleven-year-old cousin Sal Sultus live on opposite sides of the country until Sal and her mother move next door to the Valenses. The children struggle to get along, and their world is further shaken when their grandpa gets sick. They try to understand the disease that has struck him and determine that the underlying cause is a deadly disease with a big word, atherosclerosis. They partner up to create a simulated computer adventure and travel into the world of atherosclerosis.”

We hope you can get a copy for your middle schooler, read along with them if possible, and start the conversation regarding what they learned about protecting their bodies and what they can do to start making small changes that will benefit their bodies in the long run. The book can be used in home or school settings. We are also working on a facilitator’s guide that will be useful in guiding conversations and getting the young readers to think about what they read and how they can apply it. If you enjoy the book, please post a review on Amazon.com and on your favorite social media sites. Thank you and please stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

How to Use MyPlate

For more information visit MyPlate and Choose MyPlate

By Cate Moriasi

Through our blog and book, Atherosclerosis Attack, we seek to empower children to be proactive in making healthy choices and protecting their bodies from diet-related chronic diseases, starting at an early age. MyPlate, which was published by the USDA based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is a great tool that can be used to help children visualize what they need to do regarding food choices. It is simple enough for children to understand and it is not only a good conversational starter about what the child should be eating but it has the potential to stick with them for a lifetime. As in the picture below, MyPlate shows a single meal with a plate divided into four different food groups: fruits, grains, protein, vegetables and a fifth side portion of dairy. The picture also depicts portion sizes of the different food groups that should be consumed; for example, the half side of the plate should have more vegetables than fruits.

This tool is simple, even though it comes with additional recommendations such as using whole instead of refined grains, using a variety of lean proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy and limiting added sugar and salt. Many people are probably using it as a mental guide to make their kids’ plates but they could push it further by involving their children. Recently, I asked my 7th grader if she had ever heard of MyPlate and her response was “yes.” “At school?” I asked. “No, you told me about it,” she responded. If MyPlate has been taught or presented at school, she somehow does not remember. However, she was able to describe the contents of MyPlate and the implied proportions perfectly. “Isn’t half of the plate supposed to be fruits and vegetables, with more vegetables than fruits? She asked and went on describe the rest of the contents.

That’s why I believe it is important for caregivers to have the conversation about this simple visual tool with children, as soon as they can understand. I regularly use MyPlate as a guide when I make my daughter’s plate or to guide her when she makes her own plate.  We hadn’t talked about it for as long as I could remember, but she remembered it accurately from whenever we talked about it. Somehow children figure out, very early in life, what tastes good and what doesn’t. What they usually don’t know are the long-term effects of not eating certain things like vegetables. Most children try their best to eat vegetables because mom probably said they can’t have dessert if they don’t. This approach may work for some children who can develop an acceptance for certain foods, such that they are able to select them without mom threatening to withhold dessert.

For many other children like mine, it’s essential to give them better reasons to choose well for their bodies. The conversation about MyPlate is great for those who always seem to resist until they hear another person saying the same thing mom has been saying. MyPlate can be blamed on science. I have had to tell my daughter that, it’s not me who is trying to supposedly “torture” her with vegetables and prevent her from enjoying sweets. But rather, scientists have studied food patterns and health and they have determined that if we consume certain foods over a long time, or fail to consumer others, we are hurting our bodies, one meal at a time, even when we don’t feel the damage right now.

So how can you go about incorporating MyPlate in a food conversation with your child? The first thing is for the parent or caregiver to familiarize themselves with MyPlate. Parent and teacher resources are available to use with children starting in kindergarten. One option to start the conversation is to discuss with the child what he or she knows about eating well. Ask them what eating well means to them and why they think it is important. Follow this with a picture showing what scientists have determined as eating well, to help resolve some questions the child may have in their mind. You can then ask them about each of the five food groups, for example, the kind of vegetables she/he likes.

As you work your way through the food groups, discuss what could make each of the food groups unhealthy, for instance adding sugar, lots of fat and salt. But what can the children do about all the fun things they like to eat but are not good for their health? We can help them understand that those things can be saved for special occasions. Definitely baby steps, and not drastic changes, are needed in this regard. For example, choosing to add broccoli or another vegetable to the plate or 100 %juice instead of soda. However, the most important thing is to make these changes fun. There are several resources available in MyPlate and Choose MyPlate websites, including posters, games and recipes.  

I especially like the Choose MyPlate website and would encourage you to explore it with your child and learn more about each food group. You can browse it by audience and visit MyPlate Kids’ place, among others like MyPlate, MyWins, which has ideas about making healthy choices based on your personal eating style. But my favorite is MyPlate Kitchen. You can browse MyPlate recipes based on: the course you are interested in, for example appetizer; the kind of food group and nutrition focus, for example protein with reduced sodium;  the cooking equipment you want to use, for example electric grill; the cuisine, for example Mediterranean or American; and/or the amount of money you want to spend. The website also has an option of creating your own cookbook online, which might be a fun activity for some children. I hope you will find time to explore MyPlate and use available resources to help your child’s journey of making one healthy choice at a time, to safeguard their health.

If you have any questions or comments for us please don’t hesitate to send us a message and stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Eating Out

By Kate Coughlan (Nov 3, 2019)

Eating out has been a staple in both my personal and professional life. I EAT OUT ALL THE TIME!  Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner many laughs, ideas, stories and advise have been exchanged during these events. Whether it is dining out to meet up with old friends or new, meeting professionals in your field to discuss ideas or grabbing some to-go food as you just do not want to cook, one problem exists for all scenarios– what can we eat that is healthy? 

I think I am the outlier in the “going out to eat” model.  There are weeks at work that I visit the same fast-food deli every day. Yes, you heard that correct -5 days a week- I go out to eat for lunch. Then when I realize I have eaten out for about 2 weeks; I give in to healthy snaking throughout the day which is not as satisfying.  In fact, eating out is an escape for me. When I am stressed, I eat out, when I am busy, I eat out and when I am just having a bad day, I like to reward myself with food from one of my favorite to go spots in town.  The other reason for going out is social.  As adults, or at least for my husband and I, we catch up with family and friends over food and drink at the latest restaurant.

To be honest, it has not been to recently that I ‘sort of’ paid attention to food choices at restaurants and healthy living. I was of the mindset that going out to eat meant splurging.  And in some sense, I still believe in this model, although as I age, I also realize that those foods may have long term effects on my health.  One advancement that has helped me, has been the trend for restaurants to place calories on their menu. This was a true awakening for me!  Prior to this I knew food from restaurants was not going to be healthy and would contain high amounts of calories however I was unprepared for the number of calories found in some of my staple foods.   From appetizers to desserts, the calories presented were more than the daily recommended dose of 2000 calories.   During some meals, I was estimating 4000 calories in that meal, in addition to the other foods that I ate that day as well.  This does not include the breakdown of sugars, fats and salt, all of which are high, in these types of food.   Moreover, this was amplified by eating out daily rather than limiting it to once a week or month.   Even those foods I thought were healthy, really racked up the calories including many salads on the menu. 

The reason for eating out is personal, however, the realization that there is not much on the menu that is considered healthy eating is known by many.  Ideally, if healthy eating is your goal, then should we never go out to eat?  The answer is no, eating out is a form of socialization, stress reducer and an important part of life. 

As I began to research this topic (see out FB post: Dining Out Doesn’t Mean Ditch Your Diet-AHA), here are some tips for eating out based on my research:

·       Meal planning is so important on a daily basis but even more important when you know that you have dinner plans with family or friends at one of your favorite restaurants. For example, if you know that you will eat out on Friday night, then plan heart-healthy meals a few days before and after the dining out meal.  

·       Decide on your meal before you arrive and calculate the caloric intake of this planned meal.  Many restaurants have calorie counts on the menu, so utilize this to make informed decisions.  For example, if the appetizer you want it 1000 calories, perhaps order for the entire table thereby allowing you to sample it while only costing you 250 calories. 

·       Restrict the add-ons and additional items the server may suggest.  The server’s responsibility is to upsell. As a former waitress, the higher the bill the better the tip. Often, we buy into the appetizers, additional cocktails, desserts or supersized meals. Keep in mind the old saying ‘our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.’

·       Share meals.  Portion sizes have increased a lot.  If you are wanting a hamburger and fries, think about splitting the meal or at least splitting the sides.


·       Watch out for items that we typically do not attribute to calories: Drink choices, condiments and cooking materials (oils).

·       Take it home!  Feel free to take you food home for the next day.  Again, many meals come as a double serving hence taking a bit of that food home will reduce the caloric intake for that day and also allow you to not over extend the stomach.

Other suggestions include drinking water before you go out to eat which will help reduce your appetite (Jeong, Ji Na. Effect of Pre-meal Water Consumption on Energy Intake and Satiety in Non-obese Young Adults. Clin Nutr Res. 2018 Oct; 7(4): 291–296.) Likewise, pick your battles. So maybe you love chips, instead of eliminating the chips choice the healthier combo- guacamole instead of queso.

Going out to eat should be a special treat and one should be able to indulge in fun food and conversation. Simple changes can make a huge difference in eating healthier when out at a restaurant. I would love to hear your ideas for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying the social aspect of eating out.    

Dietary/Eating Patterns

Information adapted from 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

by Cate Moriasi

We have written a book, Atherosclerosis Attack. The book, which is in preparation for publication, uses a story to teach middle schoolers about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis develops over a lifetime and is largely affected by diet. Our hope is that as young people learn more about this disease and the fact that it is preventable in most cases, they will choose protective eating patterns. But what does a dietary pattern or eating pattern mean?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture publish Dietary Guidelines that provide food and beverage recommendations for Americans ages 2 and older, based on scientific evidence about the effects of nutrition on body function. They defined an eating pattern as “the combination of all the foods and beverages a person eats and drinks over time.” The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines focused on eating patterns because of the growing evidence that the combination of all foods and beverages that an individual consumes over time significantly affects the individual’s health. The guidelines clearly spell out what a healthy eating pattern should include and what it should limit. They also provide resources on how to build a healthy eating pattern.

I love the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns for several reasons given in the dietary guidelines, including the fact that healthy eating patterns are adaptable. They give people the ability to incorporate many of the foods they enjoy depending on their preferences, traditions, culture and budget.

I believe the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns addresses the question of “what is the best diet out there?” I have heard this question asked several times and my take is, the best diet is the sustainable diet, in terms of your ability to stick with it but most important, sustainability in terms of providing all the nutrients you need for normal body function while minimizing diet-related illnesses. Different food groups for example fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein foods, provide various nutrients which promote health. Promoting health also requires considering the effects of food components such as added sugars, fats, salt, and others.

Focusing on healthy eating patterns is essential to helping children adopt lifestyles that avoid or at least delay onset of prevalent food-related chronic diseases. There are many ways to achieve a healthy eating pattern, which makes it less daunting even for children to adopt a healthy eating pattern that can last a lifetime. As children learn to make daily choices, we can teach and encourage them to shift to healthier foods and beverages, one choice at a time. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize shifts, which should be doable and healthy changes to how people already eat. For example, a shift from soda to water during lunch will cut down on intake of added sugar; snacking on unsalted nuts instead of chips would cut down on salt, and shifting from a cream-based pasta to one with oils and vegetables would cut down on saturated fats.

The picture below shows the current eating patterns.

Using vegetables and salt as an example, we can see that a high number of people are eating less than the recommended amount of vegetables, and an equally high number are eating more than the recommended amount of salt (sodium). “Young children and older Americans generally eat closer to the recommended amounts than adolescents and young adults.” If you take care of an adolescent (10-19 years of age according to World Health Organization), chances are that you have noticed the struggle of getting them to eat healthy. So, what are you to do if you are still interested in helping them?

This blog post is intended to encourage you to start the conversation about healthy eating patterns with your adolescent. Adolescents are learning big and fancy words at school and might be interested when you use some words like eating patterns to talk about an everyday issue of choosing what to eat or not to eat. You can discuss how what they eat or drink can make them healthy or unhealthy. Over time, little changes in the foods and drinks they choose can lead to big health benefits. Help them see that healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up all the foods they love. They can start by making one healthier choice every day. For example, having a fruit instead of chips for an afternoon snack or adding a vegetable of their choice to their favorite dish.

Whenever possible involve them in finding and selecting healthier recipes, grocery shopping, experimenting with various healthier alternatives of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, etc. Finding recipes that they help with preparing is a good step towards encouraging them to make their favorite foods healthier. My son loves pasta. Over time, we have shifted to whole grain pasta and allowed him to cook as he wants and he is quite pleased with the dishes he prepares. With my daughter, we have used the time of no ice cream in the freezer to experiment with homemade smoothies sweetened with stevia. We made a “frisky” from the Trim Healthy Mama book and she enjoyed it. Recipes for healthy meals can also be found on USDA’s What’s Cooking website. This website has different categories of cookbooks, including healthy eating on a budget. They also give an option of creating your own cookbook, which might be a fun activity for children.

Let’s encourage our kids to take advantage of everyday opportunities to make at least one healthy food or beverage choice for their bodies. Also in the Dietary Guidelines, we are reminded that physical activity is important. Children of ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

You can get more information from the Dietary Guidelines about estimated calorie needs, nutritional goals for age-sex groups, examples of healthy eating patterns, among other topics.

If you have any questions for us please don’t hesitate to send us a message, and stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Are you Salty?

By Kate Coughlan (9.3.19)

Do you like salt (sodium for short)?  For me, I am not a “salty” person, in fact my physician requested that I add more salt to my diet. I cringed!  I typically do not add salt to my foods or at least intentionally add salt to my food.  The other part of my family needs to limit their salt intake.  This makes life a challenge but has also made me realize more about what salt can do for or against the body. It has also made me look more intensely at those food labels which has been an eye opener.

Let us start with the why.  For me, I intrinsically have a lower blood pressure than the normal “120/80 mmHg” hence an increase in salt in my diet will help reabsorb more water which will intern keep my blood pressure on the higher end which is normal for others.  On the contrary, a high salt diet for those with high blood pressure can increase that blood pressure and result in damage to the blood vessels in the body as well as the heart.    Over the past three years, we have tried to keep our salt content to a minimal for the foods that we share, while the foods that we do not share, I tend to try those foods with a little salt content.  

So how much salt is needed? This depends on the person, however, the dietary guidelines recommends no more than 2300 mg per day. However, those recommendations for individuals that are middle aged or older adults should be limited to 1500 mg per day.   Is that a lot?  There is nothing better on a cold day than some good old hot soup, right?  Well, canned soups, like chicken noodle, contain 600-900 mg of sodium per cup and typically one can is anywhere from 2-4 cups. WOW- that is a lot of salt!  So can my family never have soup on a cold day? No,but in planning out our meals we think about the salt content for the other food that we are having that week. 

This example brings me to the major challenge faced with salt- the number of food items that have salt.  We typically understand things like potato chips, popcorn, soups and processed meats contain salt however there are a lot of other foods that contain salt that was unexpected to me.   For example, some frozen vegetables, cheeses and many sauces are high in sodium content.  Therefore, we have gotten in the habit of checking out those food labels even if we think the salt content is low.  A huge surprise for me were breakfast cereals. Yes, I knew many where high in sugar and added sugars, but most are high in sodium as well. Some of my favorite cereals contain between 5-8% of my daily intake per serving which let us be honest, that ¾ cup of cereal is not cutting it for me!  I typically have 2-3 servings (15-24% of my salt).  So what are some foods to take caution with? The American Heart Association published what they deem as the “Salty Six.” 

Six foods to avoid or limit if needing to cut salt from the diet.

Another tale to the salt issue is many times low sodium or no sodium food items comes with a catch……. Increased sugars, even added sugars, and/or increased fats.  Hence, when I look at food labels, I not only compare the salt but also look at the difference in carbs and fats with the normal item or a similar item that has low or no sodium.  

What about those that need additional salt in the diet to regulate blood pressure. So for me, I wish I can say instead of avoiding the “salty six” eat the “salty six.”   Well, not exactly as those items are not only high in salt but also contain added sugars, carbs and fats that are not the best for me.  So, what foods can I eat that have a bit of salt but are not super unhealthy in other aspects.  One suggestion is to add salt to foods such as vegetables that are healthy. Alternatively, healthy snacks such as salted nuts, olives or cottage cheese may also help.  One caution, salt is not the only way to increase blood pressure. Through my research an increase in water intake and increase exercise especially those that require movement of the legs when seated or lying down will assist in increasing blood pressure.

One may think that when we eat a meal in our household, we cook two different meals. Not the case, we do not cook a sodium free and sodium plus meal. What we do is look for items that have reduced sodium while still maintaining a healthy standard. Often this means fresh foods over processed foods.  Once our meal is served, the additional salt I may need simply comes from the saltshaker hence it’s a win-win for both of us.  I will say, that this new lifestyle does require some prep work and has taken grocery shopping to a new level.  For example, I am more aware of the contents of food labels and if we have a higher than average “salty” meal, we compensate by having food that day and/or the next day with limited salt. Overall, it’s a balancing act!  However, we are creatures of habit!  After doing this for a few years we have a day-by-day menu that fits both our lifestyles and is relatively easy to prepare.  Getting to that point took a little bit of work, but it is well worth it in the end. 

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