If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you know the importance of limiting your salt consumption. Too much sodium can cause excess water build up, causing blood pressure to rise and straining your heart and blood vessels.
But despite this warning, a new study found that patients with high blood pressure, or hypertension, are still consuming too much salt.
Among 13,000 patients, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York found salt consumption rose from about 2,900 milligrams to 3,350 milligrams a day between 1999 and 2012. The ideal upper limit for these patients was 1,500 milligrams per day.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, the Eliot Corday Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine and Science and director of the Ahmanson–UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, says that efforts to teach people about the dangers of too much salt and how to cut back are not working.
“Part of the reason may be that people are unaware of how much sodium they’re actually consuming,” said Fonarow, who is also co-chief of the UCLA Division of Cardiology. “Putting down the salt shaker is not enough.”
In fact, about 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes not from the salt we add ourselves, but from the highly processed foods we buy from the grocery store and restaurants.
While sodium is important to help maintain the body’s balance of fluids and help preserve foods, most Americans eat too much—on average, about 3,400 milligrams each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the general population consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day—the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt.
Fonarow suggests three tips for reducing salt consumption:
Read food labels for salt content. The 5 percent rule.
The amount of salt in a food is listed as “sodium” on the food packaging label. It also lists the percent of daily value for sodium. Try to select foods listed at 5 percent or lower.
“Anything above 20 percent is considered high,” advises Fonarow.
Beware of salt in bread, condiments, dressings, and sauces.
Many food items contain more sodium than you think. A serving of ketchup can contain 190 milligrams, a slice of bread 250 milligrams; and microwave popcorn 360 milligrams. Look for low- or no-sodium versions. If your favorite brands don’t carry a reduced sodium version, check the organic food aisle or natural foods store for alternatives. Better Homes and Gardens shows a variety of low sodium food swaps.
Pass on fast food and processed food when possible.
Fast food is convenient but sodium levels can be off the charts. A cheeseburger with onion and some French fries at In-N-Out Burger packs a total of 1,245 milligrams of salt—more than half the recommended daily limit. When you do eat fast food, check the nutrition values on the restaurant’s menu and opt for lower-sodium choices. Or, eat less of the meal so that you consume less salt.
Processed foods like frozen pizza, soups and cold cuts can also be high in sodium.
“It’s hard to limit the amount of salt you get when eating prepared foods,” said Fonarow. “Try to cook your own food as much as possible so that you have more control.”
Want more suggestions? Try these tips from the American Heart Association.