For the millions of Americans fighting high blood pressure, or hypertension, exercise and diet play a critical role. In fact, diet modifications and routine exercise have been shown to completely reverse high blood pressure for many people as well as significantly lower risk of developing it for others.
One of the main topics of conversation when it comes to discussing high blood pressure is salt – you may know that you should limit your salt intake, but do you know why? Or what over-consuming salt does to your body to put you at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions?
How Does Salt Affect Blood Pressure
Salt-rich foods are a big no-no when it comes to maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Why? It’s all about the fluid balance in your body. When your body has too much fluid in it, your kidneys will filter out the excess fluid to your bladder to be excreted when you use the bathroom. The only way the kidneys are able to do this, however, is if the delicate balance of sodium and potassium in the blood stream facilitate osmosis, the physical and chemical process of pulling water through the semipermeable membranes of cells in the blood stream into a channel that flows into the bladder.
When too much sodium builds up in the blood stream you end up retaining more and more fluids, throwing off the balance and making it more difficult for the kidney and effectively, other organs and the heart, to function. The extra stress on your delicate blood vessels because of the fluid raises the force needed to pump blood through your body, also known as your blood pressure.
How Much Salt Should I Be Eating
The recommended daily intake of sodium by the World Health Organization is about 1,500mg per day (or ¾ tsp.), while the average American currently consumers over twice that much (3,400 mg) every day. Many processed foods that come in packaging are to blame, as well as commonly favored restaurant dishes. Did you know that one McDonald’s Big Mac has over 1,000 mg of sodium in it? Or that 1 slice of pizza might have over 600 mg of sodium?
Other salty culprits you may not suspect include:
- Breads, rolls, bagels, baked goods, etc.
- Deli meat, cured meats, lunch meat, etc.
- Canned and boxed soups
- Prepared chicken, i.e. rotisserie, fried, etc. (though some raw chicken is pre-injected with added salt too!)
- Sauces, especially rich, cream-based ones
- Cottage cheese
In addition to watching your salt intake, experts recommend weight management, daily exercise, and self-monitoring as primary ways to keep blood pressure under control. Tracking your blood pressure at home is easy with digital blood pressure.
When you stop to read labels and look up nutrition information, it is shocking to see the prevalence of excess sodium in almost everything you eat. So what are good ways to keep your sodium intake under control and your blood pressure at health levels?
Avoid Processed Foods
Skip the vending machine and avoid packaged foods on the grocery store shelves. Your best bet for limiting sodium in your diet is to prepare whole foods for yourself. When grocery shopping, go after fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and farro, healthy fats like salmon and avocado, and lean meats like organic, skinless chicken breast.
Look for Low sodium Varieties
If you are struggling with hypertension or have even been diagnosed as prehypertensive, sleuthing out low-sodium varieties of your favorite foods, like soups, crackers, chips and cold cuts, is a must. And always read nutritional labels to keep your intake on track – if one serving of a food is over half your daily allotted sodium, put it back!
Be Smart About Ordering Out
Is pizza your go-to Friday night dinner? Cut back on the sodium content by ordering thin crust, asking for half the cheese, loading up on veggies, and limiting the amount of salty meats (bacon, ham, sausage) you get on it. Keeping your serving size to 2 slices with a side salad
Make Your Own Lunch
Start taking in lunch instead of ordering or eating out with colleagues. Not only will you be more informed about the nutritional content of your meal, but you’ll have more control over what you are putting in your body. Plus, making decisions about lunch in the morning is better for you than when you are starved and craving salt and sugar at lunch time.