Heart Disease and Your Diet

February 05, 2020

As a nurse, I love my visits with Esther. She is a sweet lady in her 90s, who lives alone in an apartment building complex. Her home health aide visits every day to help her out, but Esther is mostly independent.

Esther is full of energy and personality, and like a lot of mothers and grandmothers, she is always eager to feed me. Esther and I have long conversations about what she and the aide prepare for dinner and where the recipes originate. One of Esther’s favorite foods is herring. Herring is a common ingredient in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, served pickled or brined, which makes it high in sodium content. This is a big problem for Esther since she has heart disease. 

I talk with Esther a lot about her food choices and how to adjust her diet to reduce her sodium intake. She is great at finding options for fresh spices, removing store-bought sauces, and uses mostly fresh ingredients with no added salt. But, we were not able to agree when it came to herring. 

Esther ate herring every day, and it was the only high-sodium food that she had not been able to give up. One serving of herring has more than half of the daily suggested salt intake. Eventually, Esther agreed that she would gradually cut down on her herring intake and chose other healthy foods to substitute. I promised Esther that we would work together with her and her aide to find delicious and healthy meals that were low in salt.

About Heart Disease

Heart disease includes various conditions that affect the heart. Some examples of heart disease include; coronary artery disease, heart defects, heart failure, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythms. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Some risk factors include diabetes, obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity.  

One of the ways we treat heart disease is with a diet that is low in sodium. There are lots of creative ways to decrease salt in our diet. 

Some of these include:

•  Remove the salt shaker from the table

•  Check spices for added salt and choose spices and spice blends with no sodium in the ingredients

•  Avoid canned foods unless labeled as “no sodium”

•  Choose frozen meals with 600 mg of total sodium or less

•  Use fresh, frozen, no salt added canned vegetables, low sodium soups, and low sodium lunch meats

•  Don’t use a salt substitute unless you check with your doctor or pharmacist first

•  Be extra careful of bread, cold cuts, cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches. These foods are usually very high in sodium

Esther was eventually able to cut down her servings of herring to once a week. It became her special time of the week, and we often share this time. We would talk about her family and her childhood. Food and memories are very closely connected. The taste, smell, and texture of a meal can bring back memories. Food can even trigger deep memories, feelings, and emotions. I was happy to listen as Esther relived those memories, and I am delighted that Esther is making healthy food choices so she can continue to reminisce and create new memories. 

Disclaimer: All names and identifying information were changed to uphold confidentiality, maintain privacy, and HIPAA compliance.

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