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Common Challenges: Blood pressure - What’s salt got to do with it?

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can be a silent, chronic disease.  Blood pressure readings explain the pressure that is built upon the wall of your arteries.  The higher the reading, the more pressure you have against the wall of your arteries and the harder it is for your arteries to pump blood which puts stress on your organs.  Hypertension is a risk factor for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, and is the leading cause for kidney failure.

Mild to moderate hypertension can go without symptoms. Since most of us only check our blood pressure at our annual physicals, many can go without a diagnosis for years.  Once the hypertension is advanced symptoms include headache, drowsiness, confusion, nosebleeds, nausea, and vomiting.  A diagnosis for hypertension is usually given once three separate readings of blood pressure are high.  It is recommended to get all readings at least a week apart along with a complete medical exam. Normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHG or less.

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension or know someone who has hypertension there has most likely been an instruction for a low sodium diet, a very general instruction that can be hard to follow and initiate a lot of questions.  Does a low sodium diet include salt?  What’s the difference between sodium and salt? Am I supposed to watch both? I’m so confused!

Salt or sodium chloride is made up of 60% chlorine and 40% sodium.  A teaspoon of salt consists of 2400 mg of sodium.  So when you look at the food labels and you read the sodium level this also contains the amount of salt in the item.  In addition, it means that when the American Heart Association is recommending to aim for a daily intake of 1500 mg of sodium or less, they are talking about a little over a half teaspoon of salt a day.   How’s that for a visual and why are they recommending such a low intake?  Well, the more salt you eat, the more water your body retains and as your body works to excrete the excess salt from your body, your blood pressure can rise.

Here’s some quick ways you can decrease your salt consumption:
·   Add less salt when cooking
·   Avoid adding salt at the table
·   Utilize salt replacements like Mrs. Dash or Pleasonings Seasonings
·   Buy fresh or plain frozen vegetables, instead of canned vegetables
·   Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed varieties
·   Buy low- or reduced-sodium or no-salt-added versions of foods
·   Limit smoked, cured, or processed beef, pork, poultry, and fish

The following foods are generally high in sodium:
Canned foods                                     Salted popcorn                        Smoked meats
Frozen dinners and meals                   Snack mixes                            Tomato sauce
Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals            Vegetable juice                       Potato Chips
Cheese                                                 Bacon fat                                Pretzels
Cured and processed meats                Salt pork                                  Nuts
Ham hock                                            Ketchup                      Mustard
Prepared salad dressings                     Soy Sauce                   Canned gravies and sauce
Canned gravies and sauces                 Barbecue Sauce           Dried gravy mixes

Now that you are familiar with a decreased sodium and salt diet, let’s talk lifestyle change. You guessed it, in addition to focusing on your affair with salt and sodium, losing weight is key. Research proves that a 5% weight loss can bring early stage hypertension back to normal range.  That is only nine pounds for someone who weighs 180. 

If you or someone you know has hypertension, it’s worth it to work with a registered dietitian.  He or she can estimate your sodium and salt intake per day and also assess if weight loss should be a priority.  Don’t wait too late; this precursor is silent and destructive.  Be well!

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