The Salty Truth: Blood Pressure and Sodium


Does salt really have a direct affect on blood pressure? Because it has no warning signs or symptoms, high blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” for the nearly 75 million Americans who have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But is salt all to blame?

Before you banish the salt shaker from the kitchen, consider the fact that you can’t live without sodium chloride, or salt. Nerves and muscles wouldn’t function without salt; fluids in your body would become unbalanced without salt.

Thanks in part to the sea of processed foods now on store shelves, however, Americans tend to consume far more sodium than the 2.3 grams per day that doctors have set as the upper limit, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

While you might restrict the amount of salt you shake on your food (2.3 grams equals about one teaspoon, or the tip of your pointer finger), you probably don’t realize just how much is piling up in packages of crackers and chips, but also salad dressing, cottage cheese and even raisin brain. More than 90 percent of the salt we consume comes from processed food, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And about 98 percent of us eat nearly twice the amount of sodium we need — a whopping 3.4 grams per day.

So in the last few years, health experts have urged Americans to cut way back on salt — those with high blood pressure are cautioned to consume no more than 1.5 grams of sodium per day.

But the link between salt and high blood pressure continues to be tested. In spring 2013, the Institute of Medicine released a report that found results from studies linking dietary sodium intake with direct health outcomes were highly variable in methodological quality, particularly in assessing sodium intake. The committee behind this report added that the evidence is “not consistent with previous efforts that encourage the lowering of dietary sodium in the general population to 1.5 grams per day.”

In other words, if you’re trying to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure, there’s no reason to drastically reduce your salt intake, unless your doctor tells you so. Cutting back on processed foods is a good idea for overall health reasons, but you might also think less about salt and more about potassium. Why? The American Heart Association explains that potassium helps relax blood vessel walls, which helps lower blood pressure. Among potassium rich foods are sweet potatoes, spinach, bananas and tomatoes.

It is recommended that patients should talk with their healthcare providers about specific salt consumption levels based on ways to prevent heart problems from occurring and based on treatment for your diagnosed hypertension for themselves and loved ones.

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