Cut the salt

I’ve heard it before, “I don’t use the salt shaker so I don’t have to worry about salt intake.” Wrong. Seventy-five percent of the salt in our diets comes from the salt added by food processors so even if you don’t touch the salt shaker you are getting more salt than you realize.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing sodium intake (salt is 40% sodium and the rest is the mineral chloride) to 1,500 milligrams a day. That is equal to 2/3 teaspoon of salt. Cutting sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day is a herculean task for most of us–especially if you eat out. Consider that 2 slices of Pizza Hut Supreme pizza has 1,780 milligrams of sodium and Olive Garden’s Shrimp Caprese has 3,490 milligrams of sodium–so you can see why it is so difficult to get to the recommended 1,500 milligrams per day.

Many food companies are jumping on the lower sodium recommendations and that is good news for all of us. One of my favorite pantry items is canned beans–kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans all make an appearance in my meals. The bean has everything–protein (much more than other veggies), fiber, vitamins and minerals. Up until now, canned beans also had a lot of sodium, but now there are two solutions for reducing sodium in canned beans. One is using the line of Bush’s lower sodium beans. They’ve cut the sodium in half in canned beans. The second is the drain and rinse technique. Researchers put this method to the test and found that draining canned beans reduces sodium by 36% but draining and rinsing can reduce sodium by 41%.

So next time you reach for a versatile can of beans, drain the beans in a colander for 2 minutes, rinse under tap water for 10 seconds, and let the beans drain for 2 minutes for easy an sodium reduction to get you on your way to 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.

Healthy Aging

Healthy aging isn’t an oxymoron. You can be healthier and more fit at 60 than you were at 40 if you exercise–both aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging cycling, etc) and weight training or resistance exercise. While most of us know that aerobic exercise is important for good health, as we age strengthening our muscles may be even more important for good health. It is especially important for functional health–that is, being able to perform the everyday activities that we did when we were young without even thinking about them. Things like lifting and carrying a 50-pound bag of dog food or reaching the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet or maintaining our balance without worrying about falling. We lose muscle mass as we age, something researchers call sarcopenia, but it can be prevented with strength training and diet.

You don’t have to go to a gym to strength train, although that is a good option. Using resistance bands or hand weights can have the same effect as fancy gym equipment–the key is to do it two or three times a week and eat a diet with good quality protein to promote muscle strength. The two go hand-in-hand. I always tell athletes that you can’t push protein into muscle to make it bigger–you have to pull it in with strength training.

What is a good diet for muscle? Research suggests getting high quality protein three times a day. Aim for 20 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Spreading the protein throughout the day is better than eating it all at one meal. What is high quality protein? Protein from meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs, or soy is all high quality. Twenty grams of protein is found in a little over 2 cups of milk or yogurt, and 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry and 3 eggs. Nuts are also a good source of protein and make for a good protein-rich snack.

I recently retired after 30 years of teaching and one of my colleagues said we spend the first 30 years of life getting our education, the second 30 years making a living, and if we are lucky the next 30 years enjoying life and doing what we love. Here’s to the next 30 years–now I’ll have time to get fitter and pick up those weights.