(11/03/21) BATON ROUGE, La. — Carole Broussard knew she had to limit her mother’s salt intake to manage the 93-year-old’s hypertension and heart issues. While she thought she was reducing salt, it was still sneaking into their diets.
“What I was doing wasn’t enough,” Broussard said of her efforts. “I didn’t understand how much salt was in our food.”
When Broussard learned about the LSU AgCenter Break Up with Salt program earlier this year, her mother, Novella Dugas, had been in the hospital three times in just three weeks. She took the course to try to improve Dugas’ ailing health — and Broussard found a lot of benefits for herself, too, along the way.
“This class has been a lifesaver,” Broussard said. Both women have experienced improved health indicators — lowered blood pressure, weight loss and improved physical abilities.
Break Up with Salt was developed by LSU AgCenter nutrition specialists Elizabeth Gollub, Sandra May, Mandy Armentor, Abigail McAlister, Becky Gautreaux and Tiffany Williams.
Gollub said she saw the need for a hypertension management program in Louisiana, where 39% of adults have high blood pressure. The need became even greater after the COVID-19 pandemic began and seemed to cause more serious disease in individuals with hypertension.
Several nutrition agents across the state have offered the program in the previous year, and Gollub said they have already seen early successes among their participants.
“We saw a change in the types of foods that they eat. They switched to whole grains. They started reading labels and choosing foods with less salt,” Gollub said.
Participants also reported asking for ingredient substitutions at restaurants and packing their own meals to eat outside of the home.
The class has four sessions, starting with an overview of risk factors associated with hypertension and ways to manage stress and form healthful habits. Gollub said the class teaches participants to use visual and sound cues to start forming habits such as leaving a water bottle by the coffee pot to remember to drink water in the morning or setting a smartphone alert to remind you to get up from your desk and walk around periodically.
“I call it cueing behavior,” she said. “After doing it for a while — and a while can be anywhere from two weeks to two months — then it can become a habit.”
The second session focuses on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lower-fat meats. The third session helps participants navigate the grocery store, and the last session demonstrates how to master meals with flavor.
“Participants learn how to prepare low-sodium meals by using herbs and spices to flavor their foods,” Gollub said.
Broussard said she has incorporated what she has learned into her daily routines. Grocery shopping now takes longer as she diligently checks labels for sodium content, and she also takes time to check restaurant menus online and calls ahead to see about substitutions.
But these extra efforts have proven worthwhile. Broussard said her mother has lost 30 pounds and has more energy.
“She saw her heart doctor recently and got a glowing report,” Broussard said of Dugas.
Broussard participates in a weight loss group, where she is sharing the information she learned with friends.
“I can honestly say when I reduce salt, I see weight loss,” she said. “I needed that salt reduction in addition to exercise and watching calorie intake.”
Breanna Staab, an LSU AgCenter nutrition agent, taught the class that Broussard took. Staab said Broussard made a lot of changes but was still able to cook with flavor, which was key to getting her mom to accept the dietary changes.
“A lot of people don’t always make the changes you recommend, but when you see one who really does, it feels good to see their success,” Staab said.
Carole Broussard, right, with her mother, Novella Dugas. The women have used an LSU AgCenter program to reduce the salt intake in their diets. Photo provided by Carole Broussard