If You Have High Blood Pressure, Have a Low-Salt Diet

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One of the quickest ways to lower your blood pressure (especially if you have high blood pressure) is to eat less salt. For decades, you’ve heard the advice: Cut down on salt because it’s bad for your heart – not to mention your kidneys and other organs.

Salt raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be.

Salt makes your body retain water. If you eat too much, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. This can be a particular problem if you have high blood pressure. Also, eating too much salt may mean that blood pressure medicines, such as diuretics, don’t work as well.

How much salt is too much?

Salt, or sodium, is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function. Salt is also essential for your body, partly because of its ability to regulate retention of water. This gives it a major role in controlling blood volume and pressure. An adult should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but most of us eat much more than this.

The balance is delicate. Eating too much salt can lead to fluid retention, which has a relationship to blood pressure. However, scientists previously have known little about exactly how this works at a molecular level.

Most of the salt we eat every day is “hidden”. Roughly 80% of the salt we eat is hiding in processed foods like bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals, and prepared ready meals or takeaways. Only 20% comes from the salt we add while cooking or at the table.

What salt levels mean?

To avoid the hidden salt and cut down your salt intake, it is best to eat foods that are low in salt and stop using salt when cooking or at the table.

By reading the food label, you can see if a food is low, medium or high in salt (do not confuse with sodium, see below):

  • Low – 0.3g salt or less per 100g of food – Eat plenty of these.
  • Medium – 0.3-1.5g salt per 100g of food – Eat small amounts occasionally.
  • High – 1.5g salt  or more per 100g of food – Avoid these completely.

What sodium levels mean?

Some labels may not say how much salt the food contain, but may say how much sodium it contains. Sodium is one of the chemicals in salt. 1g of sodium is the same as 2.5g of salt.

  • Low – 0.1g sodium or less per 100g of food – Eat plenty of these.
  • Medium – 0.1-0.6g sodium per 100g of food – Eat small amounts occasionally.
  • High – 0.6 sodium or more per 100g of food – Avoid if possible.

If the label does not say how much salt or sodium the food contains, look at the ingredients list. The closer to the top of the list salt appears, the more salt it is likely to contain.

How does sodium affect my heart health?

Here’s the scoop on high blood pressure, also known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always obvious:

  • It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide.
  • It’s the leading risk factor of women’s deaths in the U.S., and the second leading risk factor for death for men.
  • One-third of American adults have high blood pressure. And 90 percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.
  • More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic black adults have high blood pressure. Not only is high blood pressure more prevalent in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age, and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain.

8 ways to eat less salt and help your blood pressure

  • Don’t add salt when cooking. This includes things like soy sauce, curry powders and stock cubes.
  • Get extra flavour with herbs and spices, and from seasonings like chilli, ginger, lemon or lime juice.
  • If you really can’t do without a salty favour, you could try using a small amount of low-sodium salt substitute. If you have kidney problems or diabetes, check with your doctor or nurse first.
  • Table sauces like ketchup, mustard and pickles can contain a lot of salt. Check the label and choose low-salt options.
  • Bread and breakfast cereals can contain a lot of salt. Check the labels to compare brands.
  • Smoked meats and fish contain a lot of salt. Avoid these if you can.
  • If you are eating out, ask if your meal can be made with less salt. This may not be possible, but it is always worth asking.
  • Look out for low-salt recipes. There are a number of low-salt cookbooks available, or you can search on the Internet.

Don’t be too concerned about the exact amount of salt you eat, instead try to always eat  foods with the lowest salt level. 6g of salt a day is the maximum you should eat, and the less you eat the better. At first, food without salt can taste bland, but don’t give up. After a few weeks your taste buds will adjust and you will start to enjoy food with less salt.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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