Cupid has thrown up Valentine's Day cheer in local stores again.
Yet, I'm the one who's turning green.
As the Christmas decorations faded to clearance racks and a surplus of freakishly colored teddy bears took up the shelves, I started thinking about a different kind of heart and the damage often done to it. The amount of salt lining processed foods isn't any more natural than those purple-eyed plushy stuffed animals in the stores right now.
Lately, I've had a change of heart. In honor of National Heart Month in February, I'm packing my fridge with fresh products.
This quest for a fresh perspective on heart health started in, of all places, the soup aisle. Soup is just as notorious for high sodium as Cupid is for sugar. Earlier this month, I browsed through soups hoping to find something appropriate for my insides and the steadily snowing weather outside. A gentleman several cans down from me seemed even more frazzled.
"How can they call this light when there's 650 milligrams of salt in this?" he said, reading the label.
There were two servings in the can, which equaled more than half the maximum of 2,300 milligram of daily sodium intake that the American Heart Association recommends. Toss in a handful of saltine crackers at about 32 milligrams apiece, and it's easy to add 200 more milligrams to that total.
"I don't have high blood pressure, but I don't want it," the man just down the aisle said.
Ashlyn Myers, a licensed dietician and nutritionist at Quincy Medical Group, explained that a low-sodium product has less than 140 milligrams per serving, but most of the salt Americans consume comes from processed store-bought products or from restaurant meals. Many Americans already have exceeded their daily limit of sodium before adding table salt to anything, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a country flooded with processed foods, Myers said finding foods low in sodium is challenging.
"If you can find products with 300 milligrams or less, you're doing really great," Myers said.
After the gentleman at the store and I skimmed through the labels, we each settled on a can of Campbell's 100% Natural Whole Grain Pasta Fagioli with 410 milligrams of sodium per serving. At about 820 milligrams of salt per can, this was one of the healthier selections in the aisle. The American Heart Association had stamped its approval on the can. While the list of percentages, grams and milligrams might have looked intimidating, that little red heart reassured me.
Earlier this week, Myers and I had a heart-healthy chat. I had hoped she would hand me a shopping list appropriate for both my heart and yours, and without taking a red pen to my diet entirely, she did. She encouraged me to add more color to my plate and to control my portions.
"Eat more meals at home and closer to the resource," Myers said.
The last time I wanted soup, I bypassed the soup aisle and took a turn toward produce. I'm taking a natural approach to my next cup of soup and making it from scratch.
Some things just aren't natural. My heart doesn't need any extra salt any more than it needs one of Cupid's mutant stuffed animals.