The Facts on Sodium and High Blood Pressure

Reviewed by Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
Salt and Black Blood Pressure Monitor

Everybody has sodium in their diet; it's a fact of life. Some of us, however, may be getting too much, and often we aren't even aware of where it's hiding in the foods we're eating. Learn why lowering your sodium intake may benefit your health.

Sodium Intake Adds Up

The good news first: Salt has many benefits. It raises the boiling point of water, tenderizes meats and enhances the flavor of many foods. The bad news is that table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. For most people, that is the daily limit — the Dietary Reference Intake is 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

However, it would be difficult to consume that much in one concentrated bite. Instead, sodium intake adds up throughout the day. In fact, only about 5 to 10 percent of Americans' daily sodium intake actually comes from adding salt to food at the table.

The bad news: Sodium is prevalent in the foods we eat and can be harmful to our health. However, a number of studies show that decreasing sodium intake can lower blood pressure; studies also show that a diet high in sodium can significantly raise blood pressure. Consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day can have an additional impact of lowering blood pressure, especially when combined with the DASH dietary pattern, a fruit and vegetable-centered diet that is low in sodium and fat. Good sources of potassium — an important mineral of the DASH diet — include potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, apricots, beans, milk, yogurt, some fish and pork.

Sodium's Hidden Sources

Beware: Sodium isn't only in salty snacks or the table shaker. Many of the already prepared foods and meals you consume at restaurants, cafes and grab-and-go items at grocery stores have sodium, because it's an inexpensive way to add flavor and is an effective way to preserve foods. Even foods with low to moderate sodium content can lead to a high sodium diet if you consume too much of them.

Topping the list for highest percentage of our daily sodium consumption are items such as bread, cold/cured meats, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches (including burgers), cheese and pasta.

How to Reduce Sodium Intake

The best way to combat high sodium in your daily diet is to watch your intake of highly processed foods. Read the Nutrition Facts Panel and look for the Daily Value of sodium in the foods you eat, which can add up to a high daily sodium intake if you over-consume. Instead, consider these satisfying options to keep sodium under control: fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts, legumes and whole grains (including brown rice, oats and barley).

Additional ways to lower sodium intake:
  • Get more natural sources of potassium in your diet by increasing your daily consumption of protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, fat-free milk, cooked kidney beans, haddock, dates, baked potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, roasted/skinless turkey, almonds, raw spinach and boiled okra.
  • Watch portion sizes, especially when it comes to dairy, meat and processed starchy foods.
  • Limit cured foods, including cold cuts and sausages.
  • Rinse canned foods.
  • Choose low-sodium varieties of frozen entrees.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table.
  • Increase your intake of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta and bread, wild rice and popcorn.
  • Include legumes and more vegetarian sources of protein, and eat fewer foods from animal proteins.
  • Substitute crackers and chips with a small amount of unsalted nuts.

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