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Salt, Blood Pressure and Nutrition: Who Should Cut Back On Salt, and Why?


Salt is a seasoning that we use almost every day, but does it have any health risks? Find out how salt affects blood pressure, and savvy salt swaps to lower your intake.


Varieties of salt


Summary

To stay healthy, adults only need about half a teaspoon of salt daily.

Salt is widely used for its preservative and flavour-enhancing properties and is found in a wide range of pre-packaged foods.

Eating less salt in foods can help to reduce blood pressure.

Salt is a mineral that is necessary for regulating water levels in the body. It also helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels by balancing the fluids in your body.

We should not be afraid of salt since it is an essential part of our diet, and we need it to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. In fact, too little salt can cause health problems such as headaches, dizziness, and confusion.

But there are some situations where people with high blood pressure should avoid excessive salt intake because it can worsen their condition.

Let's look at this scenario with clever ways to cut back on salt. 

What is Blood Pressure? 

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries.

The pressure is recorded as two numbers, one for systolic and one for diastolic. The systolic number represents how high the pressure is when your heart beats, and the diastolic number represents how high it is between heartbeats.

A healthy blood pressure level is typically around 120/80 mmHg.

How Can Dietary Salt Impact Our Blood Pressure? 

Salt is a mineral found in the earth and has been used as a food seasoning since ancient times. Sodium and chloride make up the bulk of dietary salt. It is also used to preserve food and as an additive in some medicines.

The human body needs salt, but too much of it can have adverse health effects. Salt directly impacts blood pressure because it increases the volume of fluid in the blood vessels and raises blood pressure.

Think of those old osmosis science experiments where water is attracted to salt (solute).

Fresh herbs

Above: Fresh and dried herbs can make a good swap for salt in cooking.
(Photo credit: Sunny Forest)

What are our Body's Salt Needs?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends a upper intake of 2000mg of salt per day for adults. This is equivalent to just under half a teaspoon. That's not a lot at all, and it's really easy to achieve. You might not think about it often, but salt is an essential ingredient for food preservation, so it's found in many foods we eat day-to-day, and it's very easy to meet and exceed this amount of intake.

High Food Sources of Dietary Salt

The food sources of salt are many and varied. Some foods high in salt are processed meats like bacon, ham, and other processed meats like chicken nuggets or hot dogs. Cheeses like cheddar cheese or parmesan cheese are high in salt, and condiments like soy sauce or ketchup and canned goods such as canned soup or tomato sauce. Also, cooking stock is typically high in salt. 

Ways to Reduce Salt intake

If you have high blood pressure, chat with your dietitian or GP to see if reducing your salt intake could assist with blood pressure management. 

There are many ways to reduce your salt intake. The first and most important step is to read food labels. If you're not sure how much salt is in a particular food, look at the nutrition label on the package or can. You'll see how many milligrams of sodium it contains per serving size and per 100 grams (g). If you don't know what the units mean, just remember that 1 gram equals about 1/4 teaspoon of salt (1 teaspoon = 5 grams).

When cooking, try using other additives like herbs and spices to flavour your dish in place of salt.

Amazing Fact

Our taste buds are constantly changing, so the less salt you eat, the more your tastebuds get used to less salt.

Salt Swaps

Try the following swaps to reduce salt intake.

  • Swap butter for olive oil or avocado oil
  • Swap bacon and ham for turkey or grilled chicken breast
  • Swap soy sauce for tamari sauce
  • Swap pickles for cucumber slices
  • Swap stock powder for other spices like pepper, chilli, paprika, or cumin.
  • Use dried or fresh herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary to flavour foods.

Tip

When buying these pre-packaged foods, look for reduced salt, or no-salt alternatives.

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