Will Cutting Back on Salt Really Lower Your Blood Pressure?

Will nixing the salt shaker actually help lower your blood pressure? New research suggests that it might help lower systolic blood pressure in people with high blood pleasure, but may not reduce risk of cardiovascular death (heart attack, stroke, etc). “Systolic” pressure is the top number in your blood pressure reading; the “120” in 120 over 60 for example. In general, it’s also the more dangerous of the two numbers to be elevated.

However, there are a lot of “ifs, ands and buts” related to this study. First of all, it measured the excretion of sodium in the urine, which may not be a good indicator of sodium (i.e. salt) in the diet, and it took this measurement only once. The researchers followed the participants over seven years, testing their blood pressure and counting the number of people who died from cardiovascular death. But they never actually looked at sodium in the diet or if the sodium in their urine changed. Another potential problem is that people’s blood pressure naturally increases as they age, so the raise in systolic blood pressure in this study could partially have been related to the natural aging process. Lastly, this study involved only Europeans. People of African descent are known to be particularly sensitive to salt and high blood pressure.

Although there are some shortcomings to this study, the majority of research indicates that a diet high in salt can raise your blood pressure, especially African-Americans. Some tips to reduce salt in your diet:

  • Don’t add salt to your food or while cooking. It may take awhile to get over your salt addiction, but eventually your taste buds will adapt. Use herbs like parsley, basil, cilantro, oregano and spices like ginger or cayenne to add flavor.
  • If you must have deli meats, choose the low-sodium variety.
  • Avoid high sodium foods like olives, pickles, chips and cheese.
  • Rinse canned beans and vegetables generously with water before heating them up.  Choose low-sodium canned soups.
  • Counteract salt with high potassium foods like bananas, coconut water, tomatoes and potatoes.
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