Fight High Blood Pressure By Reducing Your Sodium Intake

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 2:50pm

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

Hold the salt, yes indeed, and significantly lower your intake of high sodium products as well. This conclusion has finally been drawn after years of confusion about whether sodium really has an adverse affect on cardiovascular disease, and specifically, high blood pressure. For some time we’ve heard conflicting research.

On the one hand, they tell us:

  • “Only those who are ‘sodium sensitive’ (about 10% of the population) will experience elevated blood pressure due to excessive salt consumption.”

But then, we hear:

  • “A high sodium diet won’t increase blood pressure unless you already have high blood pressure.”
  • “There is no definitive link between a high sodium diet and high blood pressure.”

With nearly 60 million Americans afflicted with high blood pressure, we clearly need more definitive dietary guidelines about how to prevent and combat this silent killer.

Sodium intake is linked to blood pressure

The results of a diet study called the “DASH-sodium” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute helped to demonstrate how dietary sodium affects blood pressure. During this study, three groups of participants were given three different amounts of sodium to take daily (3300 milligrams, 2400 milligrams and 1500 milligrams). The results of the study showed that participants on the lowest dosage of sodium (1500 mg a day) had the biggest reduction in blood pressure. A surprising result of this study was that participants who didn’t have high blood pressure actually showed drops in their blood pressure when following a reduced sodium diet.

Recent statistics show that most people in industrialized countries consume an average of 3,000 to 5,000 mg of sodium per day. The DASH diet recommends that sodium intake be limited to 1,500 to 2,400 mg per day. Interestingly, it appears that salt comprises only about 11% of our national daily sodium intake, while 77% of our intake comes from processed, convenience and take-out foods. As the availability of convenience foods and population trends in dining out continue to rise, so does our sodium intake.

Ways to minimize sodium in your diet

So, how do you reduce your sodium intake? Start by cutting back on adding salt to your foods and eating less convenience and pre-packaged foods like baked goods, crackers, salty snacks, and fast food. Also, watch out for packaged frozen meals, canned goods, and soups; buy lower sodium varieties when available and become a savvy label reader; become familiar with the sodium content of various foods by checking this table. This table provides a good tool to help you track your daily sodium intake and to keep it within the 2400 mg per day limit.

Tips for reducing your blood pressure

If your blood pressure is high, reducing your sodium intake is a small lifestyle change that can have a big impact. Other critical measures you take include:

  • Losing weight (if you’re overweight or obese)
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Limiting saturated fat in your diet
  • Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet
  • Increasing your intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium
  • Getting regular exercise