In celebration of Black History and American Heart Health Month, The Center for Black Health & Equity applauds all of the amazing contributions African Americans have made to this country. Many of us have dedicated our lives and put our whole hearts into the work of justice. That’s why our heart health matters 365 days of every year.
Health inequities and structural racism in this country have allowed African Americans to be bombarded with manipulative advertising. Our communities have been baited with the sale of menthol cigarettes and an excessive number of fast food restaurants in our neighborhoods. These restaurants typically sell food items that exceed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in terms of sugar, fat and salt. Making matters worse, our communities often lack consistent and appropriate access to stores that provide a variety of healthy food choices.
Why does heart health matter? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 659,000 people die from heart disease each year.
The risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese, unhealthy diet, little to no physical activity and excessive alcohol intake.
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2018, African Americans were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white people. Although African American adults are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, they are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to have it under control. African American women are nearly 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, as compared to non-Hispanic white women.
A Lancet study in 2019 reported that too much sodium is the number one cause of diet related death globally. Our lives depend greatly on knowing how much sodium we should consume daily and limiting the amount of high sodium foods we eat. Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure or heart disease.
Seventy percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, restaurant foods rather than the salt shaker at the end of the table. This is why reading food labels is vital; nutrition facts can help us make smarter choices.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. This is close to 50 percent more than what is listed on the Daily Recommended Guidelines for Americans. In October of 2021, the FDA issued new guidance to help cut the amount of salt in foods you buy at the grocery store and in restaurants with the goal to reduce sodium consumption by 12 percent or 3,000 milligrams per day.
The FDA’s approach is to gradually reduce sodium across our food supply chain in the next 2.5 years. While better late than never, the African American community is currently at risk now. We must make the necessary changes to reduce our own sodium levels. Again, the average intake of sodium a day is 3,400 milligrams but reducing the target to 3,000 milligrams a day is still too much salt for anyone in a single day.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (which is about a teaspoon) and encourages moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Because of the inequities African Americans experience with heart disease, it is understood that a greater reduction in daily sodium intake will be beneficial.
The Center for Black Health & Equity wants African Americans to take charge of our health, one forkful at a time. We can start developing great habits by reading nutrition labels in the grocery store and restaurants, eating less processed and fast food, and not smoking.
We can maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy, enjoying regular exercise, cooking at home more often and checking out your local farmer’s market for fresh goods.
Put your heart health first. Check out some of the recommended websites below to support your healthy heart journey even after Heart Health Month is over. African Americans deserve to keep our rich history strong and vibrant by making mindful food choices.
If you need guidance on reading labels check out:
For salt alternatives check out:
Healthy Soul food ideas check out:
Healthy Plate check out:
Healthy eating on a budget check out:
Recipes to encourage more home cooked meals check out:
Support your local farmer’s market check out: