As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "The secret to enjoying better health isn't much of a secret," says registered dietitian Mary W. Zbaracki, MPH, RD, LD, CDE, of St. Luke's Clinical Nutrition and Diabetes Care. "We can't change our genetics, but smart lifestyle choices can go a long way to protecting your health." Those choices involve following a balanced meal plan, limiting portion sizes, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. These healthy behaviors are getting additional attention throughout March as part of National Nutrition Month.
One way to improve your health is to monitor your sodium intake. "Excessive amounts of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension, which in turn increases your risk of developing heart disease, kidney failure, stroke and other serious health conditions," Zbaracki says. "However, sodium is just one piece of the nutritional puzzle."
Good nutrition is the basis of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a plan endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and the
2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The DASH diet is low in sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts, and doesn't rely on special foods or complicated recipes. Zbaracki offers the following ideas for incorporating DASH into your daily routine:
- Enjoy fresh berries on your cereal.
- Make smoothies with skim milk or nonfat fruit yogurt and fresh fruit.
- Reduce red meat portions by a half or a third.
- Replace some meat meals with plant-based proteins, such as split peas, lentils and beans.
- Keep frozen vegetables on hand.
- Add raw carrots, peppers and other colorful veggies to your salads.
For more information, download a guide on lowering your blood pressure with DASH. If you are interested in taking a class on the DASH diet taught by a St. Luke's registered dietitian, talk to your physician to get a referral.