Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More Bananas, Less Salt


Chocolate (death) cake--at least for my dad.
Chocolate (death) cake--at least for my dad.
Image: Shutterstock
When I was in junior high, my dad was diagnosed with a rare inner ear disease called Meniere’s. He would get terrible bouts of nausea and vertigo, and in the early days of his diagnosis we had to rush him to the emergency room after he had fallen down and literally couldn’t get back up. We found out that what he ate had the potential to set him off at any moment, and absolute no-nos included chocolate, sweets, caffeine, and salt.

Miniscule amounts of those foods and others were usually all right to eat—except chocolate, which made him sicker than a dog—but after a few trips to the hospital and more than a few bouts of sickness at home, those foods were simply no longer appealing. His diet changed, and largely so did mine.

We stopped buying frozen meals and prepared food and started cooking meats and vegetables fresh. Everything that went into the cart was first checked for sodium content, caffeine, chocolate, or high amounts of sugar. We bought more fresh fruit and vegetables, and fewer muffins and pastries. I knew my diet had changed, but I really noticed when I went off to college and would take a bite of food and find that all I could taste was salt—or get a slice of cake and only be able to eat half of it before I was overloaded with sugar.

Salt is another no-no. Most Americans consume far too much of it.
Salt is another no-no. Most Americans consume far too much of it.
Image: Shutterstock
Those shopping and cooking habits have stuck with me into adulthood, and even now I only use salt and sugar sparingly. I never realized until I grew older and more interested in health that the reason my dad couldn’t have salt, caffeine, or sugar was because it increased his blood pressure and fluid retention—both of which worsened the effects of his Meniere’s disease.

My dad’s experiences with Meniere’s have been hard on him and on our family—repeated doctor’s visits, frequent nausea and vertigo, lifestyle changes, and more have become regular occurrences in our lives. But one thing I’m grateful for is the fact that it taught me early to eat healthy. Consuming less sodium can reduce blood pressure in adults. And eating bananas, which is my dad’s favorite fruit to buy, may also reduce blood pressure because of its high potassium content.

Bananas are some of Dad's favorites. Mine, too!
Bananas are some of Dad's favorites. Mine, too!
Image: Shutterstock
High blood pressure has been linked to stroke and other seriouscardiovascular problems, yet most people in the U.S. and the U.K. exceed the recommended maximum intake every single day. But just a small dietary change—less salt intake and more potassium intake—can make a huge difference in the long-term.

So I’m saying thank you to my dad for passing those habits on to me at an early age, even though it wasn’t exactly his choice. And now I’m trying to do that same favor to others—so pass it on: more bananas, less salt.
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