What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a medical condition in which the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is consistently too high. It is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it typically does not cause noticeable symptoms. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure and do not even know it. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems over time, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other complications. You are more at risk for high blood pressure if you are older, have a family history, are overweight, not routinely physically active, eat a high salt diet or drink too much alcohol.
You should be concerned about your blood pressure if it consistently measures above the normal range. Normal blood pressure is generally considered to be around 120/80 mmHg. If you are unsure of your blood pressure, buying a home monitor at the drugstore can help you identify higher patterns in your blood pressure. If your blood pressure consistently measures above 130/80 mmHg, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.
What you eat plays a significant role in managing blood pressure. A diet high in sodium (salt) can contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals. Sodium attracts and retains water, which can increase the volume of blood in your bloodstream, thereby raising blood pressure.
How Much Is Too Much?
The recommended daily sodium intake for most adults is around 2,300 milligrams or less. However, individuals with hypertension or other health conditions may need to consume even less sodium, typically around 1,500 mg per day. For reference, a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup contains 1,650 mg of sodium! Keeping your diet under 1,500 mg per day is hard but not impossible. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the specific dietary guidelines based on your health condition.
But I don’t use the salt shaker, so I don’t have too much sodium in my diet.
Foods highest in sodium include processed and packaged foods, such as canned soups, deli meats, processed cheese, salty snacks (chips, pretzels), fast food, and frozen meals. Breads, condiments such as ketchup, and soy sauce, breakfast cereals and salad dressing are surprisingly mostly over 200 mg of sodium or more per serving! You can use the food label on packaging to determine if the product you want to eat has high blood pressure. An item with 20% or more of sodium on a label is considered “high” in sodium. Reading nutrition labels can help identify products with lower sodium content. If a food item does not have a food label, the USDA provides FoodData Central, a database on all foods and drinks with accurate sodium measurements.
Low Sodium Foods
Consuming a diet rich in fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsalted nuts and seeds, lean proteins such as grilled chicken and fish, and low-fat dairy products while limiting processed foods, high-fat foods, and foods high in sodium can help lower blood pressure.
Eating out while following a low-sodium diet can be challenging, as many restaurant meals tend to be higher in sodium. However, there are some strategies you can employ. Choose restaurants that offer healthier options and ask for your meal to be prepared with less salt or without added salt. Opt for fresh ingredients, such as salads, grilled proteins, and steamed vegetables. Avoid dishes with added sauces, dressings, or seasoning mixes or ask for sauce on the side to control portions as they tend to be higher in sodium.
Sleep, Stress and Alcohol’s Effects
Other lifestyle factors can also affect blood pressure. Sleep is important for maintaining overall health, and poor sleep patterns, such as sleep apnea or chronic insomnia, can contribute to high blood pressure. Chronic stress can also raise blood pressure temporarily and, if persistent, can have long-term effects on blood pressure. Alcohol consumption, particularly excessive drinking, can also increase blood pressure.
Eating meals and snacks that focus around lean, low sodium proteins, fresh or frozen vegetables, fresh fruits, low sodium nuts and seeds and no sodium added whole grains will have the least impact on your sodium levels. If you are concerned with the amount of sodium in your diet, set up a visit with a Registered Dietitian.