Watch that salt!

October 2009
The food choices we make each day affect our blood pressure, especially those foods with a high salt content. On average, American men consume 4200 mg sodium each day with women close behind at 3300 mg. 90% of us will develop hypertension by age 75, so it’s important to learn what preventative measures you can take. Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because your blood pressure can be high without having any symptoms. The current recommendation for sodium intake is 2400 mg per day, with encouragement of only 1500 mg by the Institute of Medicine.

Why lower the sodium recommendation? You probably know of sodium’s close connection with high blood pressure. But studies also find high sodium intake can lead to heart and kidney problems, as well as osteoporosis and other bone disorders.

Surprising fact: Only 25 percent of your daily supply of salt comes from the saltshaker. Most of the rest comes from processed and packaged foods. Manufacturers add loads of sodium to food, both for flavor and to keep it fresh.

What is blood pressure (BP)? BP is composed of 2 numbers. The first is the systolic BP, which is the force that is exerted on the artery wall when your heart beats. The second is the diastolic BP, which is the force between heart beats (the time when the heart is filling with blood and resting). Normal BP is 120/80. Best BP is 115/75. Hypertension is BP over 140/90.

Tips to reduce sodium and lower blood pressure:

  • Lose weight (blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol will decrease too)
  • Limit alcohol
  • Exercise daily
  • Avoid using table salt, garlic salt, onion salt
  • Avoid buying canned vegetables, processed and packaged foods
  • Say no to sports drinks unless you are an endurance athlete
  • Choose unsalted nuts, low fat milk, low sodium cheese
  • Buy fresh, frozen or low sodium canned vegetables
  • Use spices and herbs rather than salt to enhance flavors
  • Check food labels. Buy foods with less than 480 mg of sodium per serving. Also check for non-salt sources of sodium (Na, monosodium glutamate or MSG, sodium citrate, baking soda, baking powder, and sodium bicarbonate).