Just a dash of prevention

By Jon Stemmle

A few months ago my father learned that he needed to have heart survey to repair a leaky heart valve. Along with the worry that goes with any surgery, let alone on your heart, my dad also was told he needed to change his diet. Now this is a man who eats healthy – no microwaveable meals, rarely eats out, rarely eats processed foods – and works out on a daily basis. However, the diet change wasn’t just about eating healthy. It was also about limiting his sodium intake.

My dad figured this wouldn’t be a problem. He ate healthy after all, so surely his sodium intake was probably well within the 1,500 milligrams (about one teaspoon of table salt) per day allotment. As he and I talked on the phone regularly about his pending surgery, he was explaining how stunned he was that the foods he considered healthy – like cottage cheese, whole wheat bread, and bran flakes – were loaded with sodium. His intake was well over 2,500 milligrams. He now had to make some serious changes. So, at the ripe old age of 71, my father revamped his diet. He cut out cottage cheese, began making his own bread (thank you home bread makers!) and found bran flakes that were lower in sodium. He also had to eliminate the one really salty product he loved – pretzels – and switch to a non-salt version.

So why am I telling this story you ask? It’s because at about the same time my father was diagnosed with a leaky heart valve, I was asked to join the Missouri Sodium Task Force. Now dubbed MO SKIP (Sodium Knowledge in Practice), this is an effort funded by the CDC and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to attempt to reduce the average Missourian’s sodium intake. Since joining the task force, led by Kris Kummerfeld at DHSS, we’ve been working to build partnerships around the state and find a community that we could use as a pilot site to determine how to work with a community on lowering its collective sodium intake.

The good news is that my father had successful heart surgery and is now back to his normal routine, aside from the changes in his diet, which are permanent. I’ve been talking with him regularly about his rehab from surgery and about my work with MO SKIP and referring him to some of the resources that have been created by the group including a podcast about the affects of sodium that’s on YouTube along with some great info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about salt.

Because this has become so personal to me, and I know is a problem with many of us, I’m really excited about the HCRC’s work with MO SKIP. In the coming year, we plan to begin working with communities in Missouri to attempt to stem the tide of chronic disease caused, in part, by consuming too much sodium. As the project moves forward I’ll blog about our plan and our progress in helping Missourians improve their health, one community at a time.

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