Date Night is Killing You…Literally

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You know what? I cannot lie. I love being Black. African American. A descendant of the Motherland. I once heard someone say, “It ain’t easy being black—but it sure feels good!” Isn’t that the truth?

Our charisma, our rhythm, our dopeness, our intelligence, our ability to be creative, our passion, our incredible black women, our love for God, our knack for being authentic, as well as the overall flava we possess as a people.

We originate style and fashion, and the world takes pleasure in adopting it as their own. As hip-hop recording artist, Buddy raps in his recent release, Black 2: “Everybody wanna be Black, but nobody wants to be an (N-Word).” Yes, indeed—we are a special kind of people.

For many African Americans, being black is mainly expressed when it comes to cooking, and particularly for those special occasions and holidays. Those summer cookouts with the entire immediate and extended family are must-attend events!  A typical scene is when the whole family is hanging out in the backyard where the grill is being used, and the music is blasting with everybody dancing to old school bangers.  Uncle Skeeter brags about his grillin skills while barbequing baby back pork ribs. Not to mention Big Momma’s potato salad, baked beans with Jack Daniels, brown sugar, mustard, and ground beef with chopped onions mixed in, corn on the cob, along with Aunt Betty’s Sock-It-To-Me and Red Velvet cakes. Then, when Thanksgiving rolls around—here comes the fried and baked turkeys, candied yams, collard greens with salt pork, mac and cheese, honey baked ham, dressing, cranberry sauce, and for dessert, sweet potato pie and everyone’s favorite, deep dish peach cobbler—all made from scratch. Then, to wrap up the grub session, we utter those famous ethnic compliments: “You put your foot in this, and now it’s sho nuff time to slap the cook!!” Finally, we invariably find a place to stretch out and relax—because now the eye-tis has kicked in.

Yes, in many ways, our food preparation and cooking define us as a people and culture, and therein lies the problem.

Do not worry—the title of this blog will make sense shortly. Hang in there with me.

Just the other day, I went to the doctor for my annual exam. Now that I’m middle aged, it’s crucial to try to have the highest quality of health possible. At any rate, the doctor meets with me, smiles from cheek to cheek, and proceeds to inform me that I am in particularly good health. My weight is on the decline, my heart rate and EKG are terrific, and my blood work checked out thoroughly…except in one area: high cholesterol. As you can imagine, this a commonly a byproduct of overconsumption of animal and dairy products.

The other area of concern was my blood pressure. It was 136/82. It is within a healthy range (140/90 or lower), but an ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or lower, which is my personal goal.

My doctor tells me, “As you age, it is going to be particularly important for you to monitor your blood pressure and keep it down. Since the mortality rate for African Americans is twice as high as any other racial group in America when it comes to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, this is a crucial area of concentration for you.” As you can imagine, this got my attention. I, of course, asked the doctor, “What can I do to improve this? I’m exercising and losing weight, but is there something else I can do?” In a very brief response, he said, “High Blood Pressure =Sodium and Sodium = High Blood Pressure.” He then explains to me that everyone typically consumes more than 5 to 7 times the amount of recommended sodium without even knowing it.

Now, for the sake of better understanding, let me give you a few practical insights that I have just discovered.

Recommended daily sodium (or salt) intake is about 2300 mg (it drops down to about 1700 when you are an older adult or have struggled with high blood pressure. Here is an example of 2300 mg of sodium.  Let us say you secure a spoon in your kitchen—about the size of a tablespoon. Fill it up with salt and level it off. That, my friend, is the suggested maximum amount of salt or sodium we should intake.

Now I know many of you might say, “I don’t use extra salt, so I should be fine.” I thought the same thing. Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of sodium in much of what we eat and consume, and we frequently exceed that 2300mg easily.  Here are a few more examples to consider.

  • One pack of ketchup is 154 mg of sodium, 213 mg of sodium in Honey Nut Cheerios, and on average, a vegan burger has more than 400 mg of sodium.
  • Remember the uproar late last year and earlier this year over the new Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich? Well it contains nearly 1500 mg of sodium and their red beans and rice in a small cup has 900 mg of sodium!

So, what does this have to do with dating and dying? It’s one thing to prepare your food at home that’s loaded with sodium even before you cook it. However, when you go out on a date, you are even more exposed. For instance, say you and your date are going to dinner and a movie. Unless you plan on ordering a green salad with no dressing and water, your food selections are high in sodium and exceed published nutritional information. Imagine what is already pre-loaded in popcorn (then we add the butter and salt), hot dogs, burgers, chips and salsa, pizza (cheese and tomato sauce are both loaded with sodium), and on and on. Moreover, even your healthy food options (processed), such as plant-based whatever, is charged with sodium. If it is not straight fruit and veggies (fresh produce), it’s bound to have a level of sodium far higher that you realize unless you are monitoring your sodium intake.

Now I could focus on other areas of concern like our overindulgence with sugar. I could make an argument that candied yams are not fit for human consumption and include honey buns as well. But right now, the focus is sodium, because it is truly a silent killer. One of my best friends dropped dead at work in his mid-40s, and my bonus sister dropped dead while praising God in church.  

Please allow me to offer a suggestion: —we have got to adjust our taste buds. Why? Because the threshold where we deem food to be bangin’, on point, fire, or plain ‘ol delicious, is typically nearly double the amount of sodium we should be ingesting! We as African Americans season food far beyond what is necessary with sodium products, and because of that and lack of exercise and other pre-existing conditions is causing us to check out much faster than necessary. When you go out on dates and frequent the some of the best dining spots here in the Los Angeles area, these establishments serve delicious food but often have high levels of butter and MSG (an ingredient high in sodium) used in its preparation. So, the next time you are on a dinner date at Benihana, Nobu, Mastro’s, TAO, Ruth’s Chris, Houston’s, and Crustacean, keep this in mind.

You might be incredibly healthy right now and can “get away” with eating some of these high sodium foods at a higher frequency than others. However, if you do not start making changes now, it is going to catch up to you before you know it! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black people develop high blood pressure more often and at a younger age than any other ethnic group. High Blood Pressure and increased sodium put you at risk for blindness, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and strokes.

Here is what you can do about it:

  • Monitor your sodium intake. Try not to consume more than 2500 mg per day.
  • Take the saltshaker off the table—permanently. Adjust your taste buds and acquire a taste for food without the need to elevate your taste for salt.
  • Exercise more. Drink more water.
  • Get a check-up and get evaluated so your doctor can customize a plan of action for you to remain healthy.

Lastly, when dating, try incorporating outdoor physical and exercise activities. When you do choose to dine out, know in advance what choices will fit within your diet range. If it is a first date, let your partner know that you are being mindful of your food choices, so you are familiarizing yourself with the menu and its options. It may even impress your date!

Stay healthy everyone!


Picture Courtesy of Shutterstock

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