August 9th, 2013

Hypertension & Sodium

shutterstock_98345939Hypertension (also called high blood pressure) affects upwards of 40% of people around the world.  In fact, the World Health Organization states hypertension is one of the most serious chronic diseases affecting mankind today.

Hypertension is serious because it can lead to a variety of problems, including stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. Hypertension is also found commonly in people who have diabetes.

The condition is diagnosed with a simple blood pressure test. Blood pressure tests estimate how hard the heart has to work to pump blood around the body. The test has two components based on the heart’s action of squeezing (systolic reading) and releasing (diastolic reading).

Category Systolic (mmHg) Diastolic (mmHg)
Normal <120 <80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Hypertension 140+ 90+

 
There are many risk factors for hypertension, including family history, increasing age, obesity, stress, sedentary lifestyle, ethnicity (especially people of African descent), excess alcohol and diet. With diet, one of the key issues is high sodium intake. Sodium is found naturally in foods and is absolutely essential for human life. Unfortunately, sodium, typically from salt, is far in excess in many foods. Remarkably, 85% of Canadian men, 83% of women and 97% of kids and teens consume more sodium than they need.

Governments around the world are gradually taking steps to lower the amount of sodium their citizens consume. In Canada, there are measures in place to attempt to reduce sodium intake to 2300 mg per day (from an estimated 3400 mg at present). This will be impossible unless food manufacturers drastically reduce the amount of sodium added in packaged foods. See how food processing adds sodium:

Low Sodium (mg) High Sodium (mg)
Cucumber 1 Pickle 573
Homemade soup 160 Canned soup 920
Baked potato 5 French fries, salted 555
Chicken breast 51 Chicken strips 955
Homemade burger 457 Fast food burger 1110
Chocolate milk 180 Fast food chocolate shake 420

nutritionWe can reduce our sodium intake by eating fewer processed foods and by cooking at home more often. Most lean meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits have virtually no sodium, nor do plain rice, quinoa, barley, pasta and legumes. Cereals and milk are also fairly low. Use your sodium sense at the grocery store to find more options. Most packaged foods have a “Nutrition Facts” table which lists sodium in milligrams (mg) and as a percent of the daily limit, called % Daily Value (% DV). The DV for sodium is 2300 mg. As shown below, one cup of this food contains 270 mg, which is 11% of 2300 mg. The goal is to use foods that are 5% DV or less as often as possible.

When you begin to reduce sodium you may initially find that foods taste bland. This is common as many of our foods are overly salty. Amp up flavour with:

  • Mrs. Dashand Spike
  • freshly ground pepper
  • a squeeze of lemon, lime or other citrus fruit
  • fresh or dried herbs
  • spices
  • mustard
  • vinegar

If you do need to add salt to your food, lightly season at the end of cooking. Forget to bring the shaker to the table.

Reducing sodium is a useful step in preventing and managing hypertension. If you are already taking medication for hypertension, let your doctor or pharmacist know you plan to change your diet- you may need to have your medication adjusted.

Barbara Allan,
Registered Dietician
Certified Diabetes Educator

3 thoughts on “Hypertension & Sodium

  1. Lois says:

    When I want to add salt, I use sea salt. Never in cooking and only on certain foods.

  2. Shirley says:

    Is there a difference between sea salt and table salt as far as sodium percentage is concerned?

    1. Kimiko says:

      There is virtually no difference in the percent of sodium between sea salt and table salt. Sea salt does contain traces of other minerals which alter the taste, however.

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