It is not uncommon for doctors to recommend that patients cut their salt intake. Salt is composed of sodium and chloride and too much sodium can be a problem because sodium and blood pressure are strongly linked. Just a tablespoon of salt has 2300mg of sodium; a day’s worth1. It is regulated by the kidneys and controls fluid balance and nerve impulses.
Sodium and Blood Pressure Go Up Together
Osmosis is the term used to describe the way in which water naturally flows from low to high concentrations. This is exactly what happens when you have too much sodium in your blood. More water in your cells flows out into your blood, increasing the amount of blood flowing through your blood vessels. More liquid in the same amount of space means greater pressure. In this case, increased blood pressure. The result is that your heart has to work harder since it is now pushing more blood throughout your body.2 Thus, eat more sodium and blood pressure increases.
How Much Sodium Should I Get?
The fact is that most of us eat too much sodium. Like I said, you must have some, but our modern diets tend to be much higher than they should be. In fact, the average intake is 3400mg daily. At the same time, the American Heart Association says we should try to get about 1500mg daily with a maximum of 2300mg.1 This is particularly important for people that already have high blood pressure. Even if you consume too much, just cutting back can lower your risks.
High Sodium and Blood Pressure Seasonings
Few foods naturally have a lot of sodium, but it is commonly added during preparation. Checking labels is the best way to see how much there is. By law, food companies have to say how much sodium is in their products. Anything that have fewer than 140mg is considered ‘low sodium.’1 Some of the more common sodium compounds are as follows:
- Salt – Plain old sodium chloride, often referred to as table salt.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – This is a preservative, but of course is made partly of sodium.
- Baking Soda/Powder – Both contain some sodium.
- Disodium phosphate – The name says it all.
- Anything with sodium or “Na” in it. Na is the chemical symbol for sodium.
Foods High in Sodium to Avoid
As I suggested above, most foods naturally don’t contain all that much sodium. Thus, many foods in the grocery store that come in a box are likely to be high in sodium. Some are still low in sodium, but you’ll have to read labels to see for sure. Common foods that are high are the following:
- Cold cuts/cured meat
Other foods, that often include plenty of salt that you might not even think about are:
- Frozen foods
- Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise
- Garlic, onion and celery salt
- Barbeque, steak, soy and Worcestershire sauce
- Nuts, seeds
How to Cook with Less Salt
One of the easiest ways to increase sodium and blood pressure is with the saltshaker. You should avoid it for the most part. You can still flavor your food with spices such as herbs, lime, vinegar, lemon and other salt-free seasonings. Go for fresh food as well. For instance, buy fresh fish rather than frozen. Unsalted nuts and low-sodium canned foods are also great heart healthy options. But if you do buy canned veggies, rinse them to remove excess salt.
Eating Out on a Low Sodium and Blood Pressure Diet
Honestly, eating out a staying low sodium is not easy, but certainly doable. Of course, you’ll have to be careful about what you order. First, choose fresh fruits and veggies. If you get a salad, have them add oil or vinegar rather than dressing. Let them know what you want too. If your server and cook know that you want low-sodium, they can help steer you toward those types of menu items.
- How much sodium should I eat per day?. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/how-much-sodium-should-i-eat-per-day. Published 2018. Accessed November 16, 2019.
- Karppanen H, Mervaala E. Sodium intake and hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2006;49(2):59-75.