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Harlem Word: Dr. Mary Bassett – High blood pressure and salt

We sat down with Dr. Mary T. Bassett, former Deputy Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to discuss high blood pressure in Harlem and the impact of salt on hypertension.

Q: Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in New York City, what can people do to lower their risk?

A: One contributor to heart disease is high blood pressure (hypertension). In New York City, one in four people has been diagnosed and treated for this health issue. In Harlem, however, one in three people has been diagnosed and treated for hypertension.

One of the ways we are looking into helping people lower their high blood pressure is to reduce the amount of salt they eat. Seventy five percent of salt (sodium) in our diet comes from processed foods or restaurant foods. Only a small amount of salt comes from what you put on your food at the dinner table through the salt shaker. Because most of the salt we eat comes from sources that are hard for individuals to control (like processed foods or restaurant food), we are working on discussing what can be done to lower salt in food with members of the food industry. The United Kingdom has been successful in lowering salt in restaurants by working with the food industry in that country. For example, a hamburger in the United Kingdom has less salt than a hamburger here in the United States.

Q: How can people reduce the amount of salt in their diet?

A: It is important to learn to read the nutrition labels on food packages. There are many foods that you may not think have salt in them, but they do. For example, a bran muffin may have more salt in it than an order of French fries. Other foods such as bread and cereal, even though they taste sweet, contain sodium.

It may be hard for people to imagine taking salt out of their diet because they are used to the way food tastes with salt. But when you slowly reduce the amount of salt you put in your food, you will get used to how it tastes.

About Dr. Bassett:

From 2002 - 2009, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, served as the Deputy Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene overseeing the District Public Health Program and the bureaus of Chronic Disease, Tobacco Control, School Health, Minority Health, and Maternal Infant and Reproductive Health. Originally from New York City, she graduated from Harvard and Columbia Universities and completed her medical training at Harlem Hospital Center. She serves as an Associate Editor for the American Journal of Public Health and recently returned to her passion of promoting primary health care in Africa. She is now with the Doris Duke Foundation and is serving as the Associate Director for its African Health Initiative.

About the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:

The New York City Department of Health's Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention collects information on a variety of health issues and develops a number of health policies and health programs to address chronic disease in New York City. The Department of Health and the Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention are best known for their efforts to get calorie counts labeled on restaurant menus, the ban on trans fats in food and the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Read more from Dr. Bassett by click the links below:

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

22 Comments

very informative!
Yes, this was very informative and helpful. Reading labels while food shopping can lead the way to healthier eating. Start with reading the labels of prepackaged foods and condiments such as salad dressings, hot sauce and marinades.
I guess this means I should start eating at home a little more! To tell you the truth, in this economy, sounds like a good idea for my wallet AND my cholesterol!
Being a dietician, I allways advice people to eat more raw food. In most raw food recipes no salt is used. For example Raw food fast food by Philip McCluskey doesn't contain any recipe with salt! For most people with bad eating habbits that's unbelievable. But after a short period you will get used at eating salt-free.
One of my favorite foods, ketchup, is filled with sodium.. I better start eating less of it, I never realized how many other foods had salt too!

I've been food shopping with some friends recently and we are being very conscious about looking for low-sodium foods. It's been interesting. For example, the last time we went shopping for tomato paste, some (well, most)cans had 200mg of sodium and 1 brand had 20mg of sodium for the same serving size! That's a huge difference. I wouldn't have even chosen that lower sodium brand just by looking at it because it wasn't familiar to me, but I guess you can't just go by what you know if you are trying to make some changes to be healthier....

That is really true. People should be more careful with their salt intake. But in third world countries, it is difficult for the people to do away with salt especially when they do not have the means to buy nutritious food. In reality, the poor are the ones who suffer the most because they cannot provide nutritious food for their family.
It's true Vivienne, it's often the saltiest foods (the ones that have the most preservatives) that are the cheapest to buy - and fast food options are right up there being extremely salty! On some level it's not our fault that we are bombarded with salt (sodium)-infused foods and therefore getting much more salt in our diets than we should have.. but those of us who do have SOME control over it, say by adding extra salt from the salt shaker to our meals, should try and limit the amount we do that.
very informative
Although many individuals are often criticized for not taking good care of their health based on the presumption that the mirror's of one's personality is one's health.,it is now accepted that there are many factors that have a significant impact on one's health and which cannot be controlled.
Group Health Insurance is necessary to attract and keep good employees. While employers may not like the cost of group health, they should be aware of the benefits to the company and overall morale.
Blood pressure is usually classified based on the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Systolic blood pressure is the blood pressure in vessels during a heart beat. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.
All body processes require energy in order to function properly. When the body is expending more energy than it is consuming , the body's cells rely on internally stored energy sources,
It is important information all person which are suffering from High blood pressure.salt is make very important roll in blood pressure.For High blood pressure person,use of salt is in very few amount.& for low blood pressure person use of salt is in some large amount.Of even greater concern to many doctors and advocates are conflicts over treatments for women who have miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. Standard care for ectopic pregnancies, which are life-threatening, is to inject the drug methotrexate or to remove the embryo surgically while leaving the fallopian tube intact, both procedures that are intended to preserve fertility. But some Catholic hospitals refuse to perform either and will extract the embryo only by taking out the fallopian tube.
Salt (sodium) is essential to our bodies. Normally the kidneys control the level of salt. If there is too much salt, the kidneys pass it into urine. But when our salt intake levels are very high, the kidneys cannot keep up and the salt ends up in our bloodstream. Salt attracts water. When there is too much salt in the blood, the salt draws more water into the blood. More water increases the volume of blood which raises blood pressure.
This was very helpful and informative. I would love to see an article like this on daily sugar intake as too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
Very good points you wrote here..Great stuff...I think you've made some truly interesting points.Keep up the good work.
Hello, while food shopping we should always go for seasonal fruits and vegetables.they are not only healthier but also can be lightier on your wallet. Thanks, Jones
I do all I can to lower my blood pressure.

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When I do my groceries, I always look at the nutrition facts and choose the products with the lowest sodium content because of my elderly mother. Choosing low sodium food products, this will improve your diet habits and hypertension level. The American Heart Association recommends the Dash Diet for Health program along with low sodium diet has significantly lower blood pressure and weight lost for my mother. Overall, information very informative and helpful to our health.

That's a huge difference. I wouldn't have even chosen that lower sodium brand just by looking..

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