A recent news report of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that people with high-normal blood pressure can achieve significant reductions in blood pressure by losing a little bit of weight (about 8 1/2 pounds), and decreasing sodium intake (from 9 1/2 to 7 grams daily).
This is really exciting news, because these changes would require very small sacrifices to gain impressive health benefits.
The sodium changes are particularly interesting.
(Before we go on, there are 1,000 milligrams in a gram. Most food labels give sodium in milligrams. But when we start talking about big numbers, it's easier to use grams.)
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone reduce sodium to less than 3 grams per day.
Apparently, we're eating a lot more sodium than we need.
So what can you eat, and what do you have to skip, to get into this "new, improved" range?
First, you should know that you can easily consume everything recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and stay within the limits as long as you choose foods that have not been highly processed.
Dairy foods contain some sodium but not much. Milk, whether skim, 2 percent or whole, contains about 125 milligrams per 8-ounce glass. Yogurt has about 150 milligrams per 8 ounces. Cheese provides about 175 per ounce. Cottage cheese is higher, at 425 per 1/2 cup. Choose two servings of dairy foods each day.
Lean meat, poultry and fish also contain some sodium naturally. But, like dairy foods, not much. A 3 1/2 -ounce portion provides about 40 milligrams, but "processing" makes a big difference. A pork loin chop contains 40 milligrams of sodium, but
pork sausage contains 349 milligrams. A serving of beef round contains 38 milligrams while an equal amount of corned beef contains 1,740 milligrams.
A large egg, equal to 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, contains 69 milligrams of sodium. One cup of beans, cooked from scratch, with no added salt, pork, fatback or bacon contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per cup. One cup of canned baked beans, however, contains 800 milligrams of sodium per cup.
Choose two small servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or beans each day.
Breads and cereals also contribute modest amounts of sodium to your diet. Yeast breads, whether white, whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel or mixed grain contribute only about 150 milligrams per slice. Quick breads and muffins made with baking powder offer slightly more, about 200 to 300 milligrams per serving. Even cakes and cookies add to the total by about 200 milligrams per small (two cookies) serving.
Have six to 11 servings of foods made from cereal grains each day.
Fruits and vegetables are your best friends when it comes to lowering sodium. Fruits contain no more than 1 milligram of sodium each. Celery, the highest in sodium of all vegetables, provides only 63 milligrams per large stalk. But look what processing can do: Plain broccoli contains only 15 milligrams of sodium whether raw or steamed. But serve it "au gratin" and you up the count to 470 milligrams.
Select at least two fruits and at least three vegetables daily. Clearly, close-to-natural foods, and even slightly processed foods, are not the culprits when it comes to achieving that 9 1/2 -gram sodium level that affects blood pressure.
Next week: where the danger lies.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.