Salt And High Blood Pressure: Fact Vs. Fiction

Is salt America’s favorite seasoning? It sure seems like it, because it’s found everywhere. It’s used liberally in obvious foods like chips, pretzels, and French fries. And less obvious foods like cakes, cookies, bread, tomato sauce, and canned vegetables.

No wonder that most Americans eat way too much salt (sodium), according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day – the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of salt – and ideally, no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. On average, we consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day.

Truth be told, our bodies need only a tiny bit of salt. Salt helps balance our fluid levels, helps our nerves transmit impulses, and enables our muscles (including our heart) to contract and relax. But too much salt can raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

It may be time for all of us to re-think our love for salt. Muhanad Al-Zubaidi, MD of the Premier Cardiovascular Institute (part of Premier Physician Network), says just about everyone can benefit from lowering sodium levels, regardless of your current health status. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Here, he helps separate fact from fiction about salt and blood pressure:

The AHA recommends less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day – the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of salt – and ideally, no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

Fiction: I Don’t Need to Worry, I’m Healthy

Fact: Not true, says Dr. Al-Zubaidi. Excess salt consumption can lead to high blood pressure in the long run, even if your blood pressure is okay right now. “Not adding a lot of salt to your food is a good daily habit,” he says.

Also, are you sure your blood pressure is okay? Many people don’t even realize they have high blood pressure because not everyone shows symptoms. “Sometimes, you’re eating a lot of salt, your blood pressure is really elevated, yet you don’t know about it,” explains Dr. Al-Zubaidi. “Consider checking your blood pressure frequently, to make sure that you aren’t taking in too much salt.”

P-W-WMN02961-Salt-and-Hypertension-smFiction: It’s Too Late; My BP Is Already High

Fact: “A low sodium diet can reverse the problem of hypertension and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Al-Zubaidi. “So, technically, if you reduce your salt intake, you are reducing your blood pressure and treating your hypertension. And sometimes, with good exercise, diet monitoring and changing the diet, you can reverse high blood pressure and eliminate taking medicine.”

Fiction: High Blood Pressure Has No Symptoms

Fact: While many people don’t notice that their blood pressure is high, you can have symptoms. “Symptoms that indicate a patient is taking in too much salt may include more swelling in the legs than usual, shortness of breath, or just feeling tired and discomfort,” says Dr. Al-Zubaidi. If you have any of these symptoms, check your blood pressure.

Fiction: Salt Is a Natural Substance, So It’s Healthy

Fact: There are lots of natural substances out there that are not necessarily healthy, especially in excess, like alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and fats. Salt is no exception. While salt is found naturally in many foods, salt is added, to unnatural levels, in many of the foods we eat – especially processed foods and fast food. And “trendier” salts, like kosher, Himalayan, or sea salts, contain the same amount of sodium as table salt and are just as unhealthy.

Fiction: Food Is Bland Without Salt

Fact: It’s true that Americans have developed a preference for salty foods. But Dr. Al-Zubaidi says that there are many ways to add flavor to food without adding more salt. For example, he suggests sprinkling garlic powder (but not the kind with salt added) on your vegetables. Also choose more fresh vegetables (especially deep greens, like broccoli) and fruit, because canned food usually contains a lot of extra salt. If you can’t access fresh, consider frozen as a backup.

Fresh foods are often more flavorful than canned anyway because they haven’t been over-processed. Grilling or broiling with salt-free seasonings can also add flavor to meat and seafood. And avoid fast food, which is loaded with salt.

For a healthier life, both now and in the future, monitor your blood pressure frequently, read food labels, and keep your sodium intake to less than 2,000 milligrams (one teaspoon) a day. Kicking the salt habit can lead to a longer, healthier life with more time to discover and enjoy new flavors.

Muhanad Al-Zubaidi, MD, FACC, FACP, RPV

Muhanad Al-Zubaidi, MD, FACC, FACP, RPV

Premier Cardiovascular Institute

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