Should you cut down on salt?
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by blood on the walls of your arteries. Normal blood pressure is classified as ~120/80. The 120 is the systolic blood pressure (pressure in arteries as the heart contracts and blood is pumped out of the heart) and 80 is the diastolic blood pressure (pressure in the arteries between heart contractions). Note: Your GP might give you individual blood pressure to aim for.
This pressure is not constant and is affected by:
AND DIET (surprise, surprise)
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is quantified as a blood pressure higher than 130/85.
If blood pressure remains high, a heart attack or stroke could occur, or kidney disease, eye damage or
heart failure may develop. This is why it is so important to control what you have control over. Lifestyle factors you have control over include: quality of your diet, amount of salt you consume daily, your level of physical activity and whether you smoke or drink.
Is this new news? Probably not. So, let's focus on salt.
Salt is a dietary component used by people for the salty flavour itself. It is also used by the food industry as a flavour enhancer. The most common sources of salt in our diet is from:
think takeaway foods, potato chips, pastries, crackers, sauces, and even Vegemite
think stocks, gravies, canned veg
or added to meals by the cook/consumer themselves
It doesn't matter whether you are adding Himalayan salt or table salt, ultimately these have the same effect
As we have control over the ingredients we use and the foods we eat, we can control the salt intake from our diet and improve our blood pressure.
Why salt? Imagine one of your arteries, maybe in your arm. Imagine it surrounded by tissue that contains fluid (a normal bodily process). Now imagine eating a potato chip, your body digesting said chip and absorbing some of the salt into your blood (another normal bodily process). Ultimately, the salt particles now floating in your artery act like a sponge and pull the fluid from the surrounding tissue into the artery. Sure, the artery is elastic and can deal with the increase in fluid. But now, imagine eating a few more chips and the same process occurring. Now there is a lot more fluid drawn into the artery/blood that before the chips. Given that there is a certain capacity for the artery to accommodate such changes, there will be a point where the elasticity can no long adapt, and the pressure pushing on the artery walls is higher than before. This is how salt intake can impact blood pressure, and if this a habitual way of eating, it can lead to medically diagnosed high blood pressure.
Tips for reducing your salt intake:
Avoid adding salt to your cooking, and to your plate before you eat it!
Add herbs, spices, lemon, lime and/or condiments to your meals to increase the flavour without using salt
Opt for salt-reduced stock, gravies and flavour packets
Be aware that salt can hid in canned veg, soups and sauces (sneaky food industry!)
Prioritise cooking at home so you know exactly how much salt is in the food
Reduce your intake of processed foods as they are often high in hidden salts
Avoid salt substitutes if you have a heart or kidney condition
Note: if you are used to adding salt to your meals, it may take 4-6 weeks for your taste buds to adapt to the new flavours present in your meals that the salt was hiding. Food may taste a little bland until then, but bare with it!
A great rule of thumb is looking for foods that contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100 g. Foods that contain less than 400 mg sodium per 100 g is moderate in sodium (choose if less than 120 mg is not available) **Look at the nutrition information panel on packaged items**
If you would like guidance in the other areas of improving your blood pressure, such as overall diet, please see our blog on the DASH diet! --> https://www.habitsforhealthnutrition.com/post/a-diet-so-dash-ing-it-lowers-your-blood-pressure <--
For a comprehensive list of foods that are high and low in salt (easy swaps!), check out: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/150577/renal_lowsalt.pdf
If you would like to know more, please contact us at Habits for Health - https://www.habitsforhealthnutrition.com/contactus
Have a delicious day!
BDA. (2019). Hypertension and Diet: Food Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/hypertension-diet.html
Better Health Channel. (2020). Blood pressure. Retrieved from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/blood-pressure