Sodium and Blood Pressure
Sodium is an essential mineral because it's necessary for fluid and electrolyte balance in your body. However, consuming too much salt (also known as sodium) may lead to high blood pressure, a condition called hypertension. Consistent hypertension over time may increase your risk of congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, stroke and kidney disease (1). Although sodium is found naturally in many foods, this only accounts for about twelve percent of total sodium intake by the average American, as seen in the graph below. The other 90 percent is added, either during food processing or when cooking.
Relative amounts of sodium in the American diet (2).
77% Food processing
12% Naturally occurring
6% At the table
5% During cooking
Maintaining your blood pressure within normal range will reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Here are several steps you can take to reduce or prevent high blood pressure:
Reduce sodium intake
The general recommendation is to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day; that's approximately one teaspoon of sodium per day (1). Although it's difficult to measure exactly how much salt is in your food, checking the Nutrition Facts label can give you a general idea.
- Look out for "hidden" sodium in non-salty foods such as canned soups, canned vegetables, condiments, breads and vegetable juices. You don’t have to worry about this when dining at a Bon Appétit café because we make our food from scratch using fresh vegetables and ingredients.
- Choose low-sodium or unsalted options if they are available (e.g., soy sauce, soups, chips, pretzels, nuts).
- Take the salt shaker off the table.
Increase potassium intake
Potassium is also an essential mineral for fluid and electrolyte balance in your body. Eating a diet rich in potassium may counteract the effects of sodium on blood pressure and it may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones (1). The general recommendation is 4,700 mg of potassium per day.
Potassium-rich foods include:
- Fruits (tomatoes, bananas, peaches, melons, oranges)
- Green leafy and root vegetables (spinach, potatoes, squash, carrots, beets)
- Fresh meat and milk products
Lose excess body weight if you're overweight
Being overweight can make you two to six times more likely to develop hypertension than if you're at a desirable weight (3). Keeping your weight in a normal range is not only beneficial for your overall health, it may help you maintain normal blood pressure as well. See the Energy Balance section for nutrition and physical activity tips on weight management.
1. US Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. www.heatlhierus.gov/dietarygudielines. Accessed May 10, 2007.
2. Mattes RD, Donnelly D. Relative contributions of dietary sodium sources. J Am Coll Nutr. 1991 Aug;10(4):383-93.
3. Web MD, Hypertension. http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertension-overview-facts. Accessed May 11, 2007.
This information is not intended to take the place of advice from a healthcare professional. Check with your physician before starting any diet or exercise program. In addition, while all efforts have been made to ensure the information included in this material is correct, new research is released frequently and may invalidate certain pieces of data. 5/07