The silent killer

You’ve probably heard that eating too much salt can be harmful. Sometimes it’s doing damage without you even realizing it. For example, too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is difficult for a person to detect, especially at first.

Dr. Morton Tavel, professor emeritus of Indiana School of Medicine, says that at least one-third of Americans have high blood pressure. This number is also consistent with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s reports on blood pressure. The CDC states that high blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States. That risk increases with age.

The risk factors for high blood pressure include having certain conditions, such as diabetes, family history and genetics, and lifestyle choices. You can modify lifestyle choices to help control and manage your blood pressure, however.

Tavel says you should limit yourself to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, which is just about the amount of sodium found in one teaspoon of salt. However, he says even a modest reduction, to 1,500 mg per day, can lead to better health.

These recommendations are also backed by the American Heart Association.

Tavel recommends choosing foods that are labeled “reduced sodium” or “no salt added.” Be sure to read labels, and choose foods that contain less than 5 percent of the recommended daily salt allowance. Here are some healthy, low-sodium frozen meals to try.

Read on for info on six heart-healthy foods to add to your diet.

1. You can’t go wrong with veggies

Fresh and frozen vegetables are naturally low in sodium (usually less than 50 mg per serving) so “load up on these,” says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “Be careful of canned vegetables and high-salt salad dressings,” she warns.

Instead, she recommends dressing up a salad with balsamic vinegar, and maybe adding shelled edamame, a low-sodium soybean. “It’s easy to throw on a salad and very nutritious.”

2. Potatoes and potassium

Baked potatoes and sweet potatoes are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium, Gloede says. Tavel adds that if your diet is high in potassium, you don’t need to trim as much sodium from your diet (although you probably should).

Want to jazz up your potatoes? Try adding low-sodium salsa to a baked potato, or sprinkling some cinnamon on a sweet potato.

How to Peel Potatoes

3. Take your time enjoying some nuts

Unsalted nuts in the shell are an excellent snack option because they contain no sodium at all. The added bonus, Gloede adds, is that it “takes longer to eat when you have to get them out of the shell, so it helps with not overeating them.”

Popcorn can be a great low sodium treat as well if you’re enjoying an unsalted version. Pop it in an air popper yourself or on the stove with just a bit of olive oil.

4. Fruit is nature’s candy

Much like vegetables, fruits are naturally low in sodium. Apples, apricots, papayas, and pears are your best bets, along with bananas, which are also packed with heart-friendly potassium.

Try substituting fruit for the other sugars in your life. Have an apple instead of shortbread cookies, or some apricots instead of pork rinds.

5. Yogurt is your friend

Yogurt is very low in sodium. Try sticking to plain yogurt and avoiding flavored options, however, as they contain added sugar.

Remember, plain yogurt doesn’t have to be bland. Throw in some fruit and you have a healthy, low-sodium treat that’ll do far less damage than ice cream, sherbet, or pie.

6. Beans and grains

Beans and lentils, as well as grains, are all low in sodium. Grains such as oats can also help lower bad cholesterol and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes. Just be sure to use dried beans, or buy the low-sodium variety of canned beans if you’re buying canned foods.

Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal, which you can top with fruits, berries, nuts, and some cinnamon for added flavor. Incorporate rice and beans into your lunches and dinners.

If you’re worried about blandness, you can try spicing up your meals with pepper, jalapeño extracts, hot sauces, onions, or lemon or lime juice. You can also add a variety of different herbs and spices to your meals that will provide flavor without adding extra sodium. Try turmeric, thyme, rosemary, paprika, garlic, or cayenne, for example.

What not to eat

There are some foods you definitely want to avoid if you’re trying to reduce your sodium intake. Canned soups can be loaded with salt. Frozen dinners, packaged foods, and fast food in general are usually high in sodium, too.

Canned sauces and instant soups are also packed with sodium. In addition to being high in sugar, baked goods contain high levels of sodium because of the baking soda used to prepare them, and additional salt may be added for flavor.

Low sodium can go a long way

Sometimes a person is more likely to have high blood pressure because of genetic factors. Aging is another common cause of high blood pressure.

Too much sodium in the diet can be unhealthy for people who already have high blood pressure or who have had a heart attack. With a little creativity, however, reducing the amount of salt in your diet isn’t as difficult as you may think.

Check with your doctor or registered dietician — they’ll have additional suggestions for ways to cut back on salt in your diet.