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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious disease which causes your heart to work harder than it should to move blood to all parts of the body. If left untreated, high blood pressure can raise your chances of developing a stroke, heart attack, kidney and eye problems, and even death. It affects almost half of all adults in the U.S. That is an alarming number.

What can you do to prevent high blood pressure? One of the easiest is to reduce salt and sodium in your diet. If you have high blood pressure, lowering it can reduce your chances of heart disease and stroke.

You may be asking, isn't salt and sodium the same? No. Because the two words are used interchangeably, people are often confused about the difference. Sodium is a mineral that combines with chlorine to form salt. It is a necessary nutrient that helps your body maintain proper fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses and help muscles relax. Salt or sodium chloride is a naturally occurring compound that contains 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. Salt is used to season foods and is the primary source of sodium in our diet.

Most of the sodium in the daily American diet comes from processed or prepared foods. The remaining comes from salt added at the table, while cooking or in restaurant meals. Today, Americans consume an average 3,400 mg per day. That is almost 50 percent more than is generally recommended. The goal is to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day That is roughly about 1 teaspoon of salt.

We have control over our sodium intake. The first thing we should do is decide that we're going to limit our intake; then take action. We must become smart shoppers and not purchase foods high in salt and sodium.

Start by reading the food label to see what is in the food you are about to eat. Compare labels of similar foods to determine which has the lowest Percent Daily Value for sodium and purchase those foods. Buy food labeled "reduced sodium," "low sodium," "sodium-free," or "no salt added."

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables instead of salted chips and crackers will help lower your salt intake. Many times, it is the texture and crunch that you are craving instead of the salt. If you do choose chips and crackers, look for those that are lower in sodium.

Choose fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt. Remember that salt is used as a preservative.

When preparing foods at home, use a "lite" salt that has half the sodium of regular salt, and use less seasoned salt when you cook. Instead of salting your foods, use spices and herbs or low-sodium seasonings like sodium-free bouillon or onion powder, garlic powder and sodium-free seasoning blends. If you are using garlic salt, onion salt, etc., you are adding salt to the food. Instead, try sprinkling lemon juice over your vegetables for extra flavor. Or instead of seasoning or marinating meat with salt-based products, use onion, garlic and your favorite herbs before cooking to bring out the natural flavors.

If you will make one change at a time, reducing salt in your diet will be easier to achieve. It can be as simple as leaving the salt shaker in the cupboard. Salt is something you learn to like, and you can "unlearn" your taste for salt. Start with small changes and you will slowly lose your desire for the salty taste. If after you have tasted your food, you need to add more salt, add one shake, not two or three.

When eating away from home, it can be more challenging. You must take control at the restaurant. Ask for sauce and salad dressing to be served on the side.

Once you have begun to reduce the amount of sodium in foods that you consume, you will notice the salt flavor when you do eat a salty food. Remember, salt is an acquired taste.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

This simple Spicy Salt Substitute is great on meats and vegetables. I keep it in my spice rack and use it instead of adding salt while cooking or at the table. To save money while preparing your own seasoning mixes, visit spice stores which purchase spices in bulk and sell by the tablespoon.

 

Spicy Salt Substitute

5 tablespoons onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon thyme

teaspoon white pepper

teaspoon celery seed

 

Mix all ingredients together and store in a cool, dry place. Add in place of salt.

 

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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