Witnessing a fellow doctor almost have a stroke made me focus more on my intake of sodium
When I was a resident working in a clinic with a respected physician, he started having a severe headache. I thought he was just having a migraine or he was dehydrated. All of a sudden, he just said his blood pressure was probably up. He then asked one of the nurses to check his blood pressure in between seeing patients. The nurse looked at the blood pressure monitor and said, “Damn.” His pressure was higher than the crowd at Coachella.
Did he go to the emergency room? NOPE. He just kept seeing patients.
In the most humble, respectful way possible, I told him he was ‘bat-shit crazy’ for trying power through the ‘worst headache of his life.’ The dude looked me directly in my eye and said, “Who’s going to see all my patients if I go to the ER?”
He saw the look of horror on my face in response to his decision making. In turn, he asked the nurses if the had any metoprolol (a common blood pressure medication). I thought to myself, “Why would the nurses have metoprolol in their purses—like it was an altoid or something?” Next, the weirdest thing happened. A bunch of nurses started digging through their purses as if they might actually have had metoprolol tablet hiding under some chapstick or mini hand sanitizer bottles. When I witnessed the ridiculous scene unfold, I thought that Ashton Kutcher or someone from candid camera was going to pop out of a clean supply closet. That never happened.
What occurred next was even more UNBELIEVABLE
A nurse whipped out a lone pill of metoprolol from a plastic bag (if it even was metoprolol). The doctor sipped some coffee and downed the unidentified pill that may or may not have metoprolol. Then we went on seeing patients like nothing ever happened.
After the clinic, he told me that something salty he ate for lunch probably made his blood pressure go up.
That incident taught me a few things.
One, we as healthcare providers need to do a better. Having a stroke in clinic is ‘not a good look.’
Two, I needed to look at MY sodium intake to avoid ending up in a similar situation. Who wants to have to consider taking someone else’s prescription meds, especially random ones that come from hidden crevices in some nurse’s Michael Kors bag? Not me.
So, what did I do? I started looking at the sodium content on food labels because I don’t need high blood pressure in my life.
Should everyone look at food labels? Obviously, paying attention to food labels is especially important for people with high blood pressure or risk factors for high blood pressure. However, 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than the recommended maximum of 2300 mg per day according to the CDC. Thus, being aware of how much sodium you’re ingesting isn’t a bad thing for anyone.
Does looking at nutrition labels really make a difference?
In 2017, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study that looked at the effect of reading food labels on sodium intake. The researchers estimated sodium intake with 24-hour food recalls. They also asked people about how frequently they ate salty snacks/meals and their frequency of using food labels. The study revealed that people who routinely read food labels ate an average of 93 mg less sodium per day and were less likely to eat salty snacks compared to folks who rarely looked at nutrition labels.
I know 93 mg is not a lot, but it’s a start.
Still not convinced? Here’s a personal example of how reading a food label can lower your sodium intake.
A couple of days ago when I was at work, I realized I forgot my lunch, and I ended up going to the cafeteria as a result. I wasn’t super hungry, so I ended up grabbing a hummus pack. What’s unhealthy about hummus, right? Mashed chickpeas, olive oil, red peppers, lemon juice and sesame paste (tahini) should be extremely healthy, right? On paper, hummus is a healthy snack, but I looked at the nutrition label instead of just assuming its health benefits.
What I found was SHOCKING. The hummus pack with pretzels had 840mg of sodium in it. That little tiny package had more than a 1/3 of my desired sodium for the day. To give you a frame of reference, an Oscar Meyer hot dog only has 380mg of sodium.
Now admittedly, this not a fair comparison because the hummus has fiber and other healthy nutrients. Plus, the hot dog may have just as much sodium if you add in the salt from the hot dog bun, the ketchup, and mustard. However, it’s a ‘freakin’ hot dog.
Reading the nutritional label was the only way I recognized my seemingly healthy snack had hot dog levels of sodium.
What’s the bottom line?
- Read your nutrition labels and stay ‘woke.’ You might be ‘salty’ if you don’t look at them. (Translation: read the nutrition labels so you can know what you are putting in your body, you might regret it if you don’t).
- Reading nutrition labels can help lower your sodium content. (Check out my post on sugar to help reduce your sugar consumption).
- Please go to the ER if your blood pressure is up and you are having headaches. Don’t do what the doctor did at the beginning of this post. You could be having a hypertensive emergency.
Show some love and share the post. Don’t forget to follow The Doc’s Kitchen on Facebook and join our email list.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.