Sodium in salt may contribute to high blood pressure in some people. By limiting the amount of sodium used, these people can reduce the amount of medication required, and in some cases, lower blood pressure to a stage where medication may not be needed at all.
Dietary salt intake and hypertension
Hypertension is even more important than high blood cholesterol in calculating the risk of stroke.
Every rise on the blood pressure scale increases the danger. Conversely, as pressure decreases, the risk diminishes. You probably know that the first order a physician will give a patient with hypertension is “Reduce your salt intake.”
Incidentally, don’t be discouraged if food seems bland and tasteless at first. You may find that most people who lower their salt intake become accustomed to the new level in two to four weeks and soon discover that foods that tasted just right before, now seem unpleasantly salty.
Salt substitutes usually contain potassium or ammonium or both. If under treatment or observation for any illness you should check with your doctor before using them. Vegetable salt, rock salt, sea salt, garlic salt, celery salt all contain sodium.
What happens when you eat too much salt?
The major health problem connected with salt is high blood pressure or hypertension.
The National Heart Foundation found in its risk factor prevalence study in 1980 that one adult in five in the U.S. had high blood pressure. This insidious disorder is often symptom-free until it has done irreparable damage.
When there is high blood pressure the heart has to pump at high pressure; this causes the artery walls to become thicker, harder, and less clastic (sometimes called hardening of the arteries). Eventually, heart disease or stroke may occur.
Several factors may be involved but much of the blame is now being leveled at the amount of sodium (from salt) in the diet. In communities where no salt is used, there is no high blood pressure.
In Japan, where in some regions the salt intake is up to twice as high as in the U.S., up to 40 percent of middle-aged adults suffer from high blood pressure. In the U.S., and in societies consuming a similar amount of salt, 20 percent of the adult population has high blood pressure.
There are other problems associated with a high salt diet, including edema (swelling of body tissues), and extreme symptoms of premenstrual tension.
The kidneys constantly assess how much sodium the blood contains and send the excess on its way out in the urine. If they are continually made to work overtime the body may retain too much sodium. This causes water to be retained as well.
Such a situation occurs in many women just before a menstrual period and results in a bloated feeling, irritability, and headaches.
These symptoms can be treated by following a low salt diet for 10 days before menstruation is expected, but it would be even better to adopt a healthy (unsalted) diet permanently.
How to reduce salt intake
You’ll realize how pleasurable eating can be when your taste buds are free to enjoy the natural flavor of foods, as well as the many subtle combinations of herbs, spices, fruit juices, wines and vinegar that you can use to enhance them.
Follow these tips to lower the salt intake:
- Don’t put salt on the table.
- Reduce or omit salt in cooking.
- Read food labels: choose low-salt products or products labeled as low salt or no added sodium.
- Use unprocessed (fresh) foods: processing usually increases sodium content.
- Choose low-salt cereals, including bread, unsalted oats, and biscuits.
Use foods from each of the following groups:
- Cereals: wheat, rye, oats, barley.
- Fruit and vegetables: raw or lightly cooked.
- Lean meat, fish, lean poultry, dried beans, lentils.
- Milk products: skim or low-fat.
- Oils and fats in small amounts.
Discover heart-healthy, low salt cooking:
- Eliminate monosodium glutamate, large amounts of soy sauce, and baking soda whenever you boil vegetables.
- Carefully read the labels on processed foods. Soups, canned stews, frozen dinners, and soft drinks may be high in salt. If food begins to taste too salty to you after you have cut down for a while, find the lower-salt brand.
- Avoid adding salt to frozen or canned vegetables that are already salted.
- Eliminate highly salted snack foods such as potato chips, pretzels, salted nuts, olives, brine-packed pickles.
- Steam vegetables instead of boiling, to retain natural flavors.
- Use garlic, dry mustard, pepper, onions, shallots, mushrooms, and tomatoes to add flavor to meat and vegetables.
- Add a little wine to casseroles and stews. The alcohol will evaporate during cooking, but the flavor remains.
- Add sliced lemon or lemon juice to white meats and fish.
- Use herbs such as basil, marjoram, oregano, sage, thyme.
- Use spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Most fresh foods contain some sodium but in low concentrations. Your daily requirement of sodium is small and an eating plan which includes a variety of foods will satisfy the body’s needs.
The use of salt in food is an acquired taste and sometimes just a habit. Salt is a chemical made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Although the body must have sodium, most people eat far more than they need.
Foods low in salt:
- Fruit (fresh, canned, juices)
- Vegetables (fresh and frozen, except silverbeet)
- Unsalted bread
- Unsalted nuts
- Unsalted seeds
- Unsalted butter
- Unsalted margarine
- Cooking oils
- Legumes (not canned)
- Soybean milk
- Breast milk
Foods moderate in salt:
- Unsalted meat
- Cottage/ricotta cheese
- Biscuits (plain)
- Peanut butter
- Canned baby food (main-meal type)
- Soft drinks
Foods high in salt:
- Cured, corned, luncheon meats and meat pastes
- Smoked and canned fish, fish pastes
- Vegetable yeast extracts
- Cheese: especially processed and spreads
- Commercial sauces
- Take-away packaged foods (unless marked as low salt)
- Take-away foods: meat pie, hot-dog, fish and chips, pizzas
- Potato chips
- Salted nuts
- Packet and canned soups
- Canned vegetables and vegetable juices (unless marked as low sodium)
- Stock cubes
- Salted savory biscuits
- Baking powder or baking soda
- Meat tenderizer
- Some mineral waters
- Fruit saline
- Cereals such as com flakes, rice bubbles, most bran types
- Bread: more than four slices per day
- Chocolate, toffees
What is a DASH diet?
A major US medical study known as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has shown that a balanced diet low in saturated fat, high in fruit and vegetables, and providing two to three serves of low-fat dairy products a day can significantly and quickly lower blood pressure.
Such a change in diet can produce reductions in people with mild hypertension similar to those achieved through drug treatment. The DASH diet combines two to three serves of low-fat dairy food a day, four to five servings of fruit, and four to five servings of vegetables.
Increasing your daily intake of these important foods and decreasing fatty foods, salt and alcohol are simple steps that everyone can take to improve their health and keep their blood pressure below the danger mark.
Using the DASH diet principles as a guide, we recommend the following tips to help control blood pressure levels:
- Prevent gaining weight and if you are overweight losing excess kilograms will help.
- Be active every day.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat moderate amounts of low-fat dairy foods.
- Enjoy eating fish at least twice a week.
- Go easy on the salt.
- Be a non-smoker.
People concerned about their blood pressure can obtain personalized advice from an accredited practicing dietitian.