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Sodium and Hypertension

April 21, 2020
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Though it is an essential mineral that the body needs for proper function, too much sodium can lead to hypertension. The trick is to include a bit of sodium in the diet, but not too much. Many people who have hypertension should lower their intake because of strong links between sodium and blood pressure. 

One reason for this is that the body tends to retain water after consuming sodium. This water retention can raise blood pressure by exerting greater force on the walls of blood vessels. So, it is important to maintain a healthy level of sodium intake for normal cell function without having so much you run into the pressure increase. Another reason is that sodium makes blood vessel walls stiffer. 

What is sodium?

Sodium is a mineral that is found in table salt and many other products. Sodium helps muscles contract and nerves function, and it helps regulate body fluid balance. Most dietary sodium is from salt added to foods, and table salt. It is also in baking powder, baking soda, and MSG, or monosodium glutamate, and is naturally found in many foods.

What is a healthy amount?

Great question! The amount varies depending on age, risk factors, and health status. For most adults with hypertension, the goal is to keep sodium intake to no more than 1500 mg per day. For adults without hypertension or other risk factors, the goal is a maximum of 2,300 mg per day. To put that in perspective, that is the amount in a single teaspoon of salt. 

The average American gets about 3,500 mg of sodium. If you are starting to wonder how much salt you have been getting, that's good! Logging with Lark can give you some idea of the higher and lower-sodium foods.

Straightforward and sneaky sources of sodium

How does sodium get into your diet? Some comes from table salt, or salt added at the table or when cooking. However, most of it comes from salt that is in processed and prepared foods. For example, the biggest single source of sodium for Americans is bread!

These are some foods that can be high in sodium. 

  • Canned soup, vegetables and other canned foods.
  • Cheese.
  • Frozen meals and other processed frozen foods.
  • Fast food, including burgers, pizza, Chinese food, and sandwiches.
  • Processed meats.
  • Soy sauce, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, salad dressing, and other condiments.

Some foods hardly seem salty, but are high in sodium. For example, sports drinks and almond milk both contain significant amounts of sodium.

Now what?

You don't have to eat a flavorless diet to keep sodium in check. Limiting the amount of salt you add to foods is a good start. A good practice for limiting salt is to taste food first and then decide if it needs more flavor. If it does, herbs and spices can be used to add flavor. 

Reading food labels to try to select the lower sodium options is another way to lower salt. In addition, you can opt for less processed foods compared to more processed ones. For instance, instead of a salty frozen entree for dinner, it can be just as quick, and far lower in sodium, to make a quick stir fry with vegetables, chicken or tofu, seasonings such as garlic, chili, and ginger rather than salt.

You can also look for salt-free, reduced-sodium, or low-sodium versions of foods. Each change you make adds up to a significant reduction in sodium and may get you closer to that goal of 1,500 mg/day. 

Making these changes is a process that can take time, so there is no need to worry about hurrying along. Lark can help you monitor your sodium intake and can give you suggestions for choosing lower-salt foods.

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