Effective Home Remedies for High Blood Pressure
By Godot Media
Chapter 4: A Low Salt Diet
Hypertension, or high blood pressure is a chronic medical condition that affects a large number of people of every age. It causes the cardiovascular system to work harder, eventually causing permanent damage to the heart and the entire system, if not managed well early on. Medication is usually required to control and stabilize blood pressure, and the dosage requirements vary depending on the severity of the condition and the general health of the patient. Controlling your diet is a way to keep your high blood pressure in check in the long term, if you do not wish to be completely dependent on medication.
How does sodium affect blood pressure?
Sodium is a mineral that is naturally found in many edible substances. One of the major sources of sodium in most diets today is salt. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, which means 50 percent of all the salt you consume is sodium. Sodium is also a part of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in Chinese foods. Since common table salt is one of the most commonly consumed natural sources of sodium in food, you may be told to lower your salt intake if you suffer from high blood pressure.
How does sodium increase blood pressure? Salt is soluble in water. When you consume a lot of salt, the body sometimes tends to hold an increased amount of water to help dissolve and wash away the excess salt from the body. Sodium in the salt is mainly responsible for excess retention of water in the body. Increased amount of water in the body frequently affects blood pressure and causes it to shoot up, especially in patients already suffering from high blood pressure.
It worsens hypertension because the excess water stored in the body puts a great amount of pressure on the heart and the entire cardiovascular system. The system works harder, causing blood pressure to shoot up and damage the cardiovascular system in the long run.
What is a low salt diet?
A low salt diet essentially means a diet low in sodium content. Such diets are called low salt diets since salt is the main source of sodium in most of the food you will consume on a daily basis. Sodium may also be present in other forms, especially in processed foods. It is used in preservatives and additives used in many processed food. That is the reason you are asked to avoid processed food as much as possible if you suffer from high blood pressure.
A low salt diet is prescribed to many patients suffering from hypertension. However, if you suffer from hypertension, but have not been advised, or are simply someone looking for a healthier diet before you develop any medical conditions, then a low salt diet is a great option for you.
Essentially, a low sodium diet is a healthy balanced diet but with less salt, preservatives and additives. It means is that if you wish to follow the diet, you will have to include a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats if you are a meat eater, fresh fish, whole grains and lots of fiber. You will also be able to explore the vast variety of spices, herbs and seasoning options to replace the flavor that salts lend to most everyday food.
How much salt does a low salt diet typically contain?
If you are a hypertension patient, a low salt diet is highly recommended for you. However, even if you are not suffering from high blood pressure, but follow a diet that is high in sodium and various kinds of processed foods, then it is good to take stock of what you should be consuming and comparing it to your present diet. It will help bring things into perspective and motivate you to get started on the road to better health.
Physicians usually recommend adhering to a low-salt diet to keep hypertension under control with minimum medication. You should ideally lower your sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily, which is about half the average American intake. Just to put things into perspective, just half a teaspoon of salt contains about 1,200 mg of sodium. A low sodium diet for someone suffering from hypertension should also contain higher levels of potassium, as potassium is known to assists in keeping blood pressure in check.
If you wish to keep your hypertension under control without having to take too much medication every day, you should ideally keep your intake of sodium to under 1,500 milligrams a day. Depending on your overall health condition, your physician will be able to give you a more accurate figure for sodium intake levels, because each individual is different and might have specific requirements that only your doctor will know.
Why have a low salt diet?
- It keeps high blood pressure under control without having to depend entirely on medication to keep hypertension in check.
- It can help reduce water retention, or edema, in the body. If you have a problem of frequent edemas, reducing salt from your diet can help decrease the severity and frequency of their occurrence.
- It is healthier for the body in the long run, since a low salt diet usually contains healthier food options that are simple, easy and tasty.
- You will end up having healthier and fresher food when following such specialized diets.
- It is not expensive or time consuming to follow such a diet, and it has many health benefits too.
- You can keep your heart and cardiovascular system healthy despite suffering from chronic hypertension.
It is important to note here that although excess amounts of salt is bad for your body, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure, salt by itself is not bad for you. Salt is essential for the normal functioning of the body, so it is important to not do away with it completely from your diet. With the sodium present in salt, your body cannot function optimally, which can lead to other medical and health problems.
That is the reason even patients suffering from high blood pressure are not advised to do away with salt completely, but limit it to about 1,500 mg a day, as discussed in the earlier section.
Lower your daily intake of salt
It is not difficult to lower you salt intake on a daily basis. You will have to make the effort initially to understand what being on such a diet means and figuring out how you can fit it into your lifestyle. It may not be easy at first, especially if you are used to eating out often, but you can learn to make smart dietary choices every time you go to the grocery store next door, or out for dinner with friends.
Cooking your own meals instead of having ready meals is a great way to start reducing your salt intake. A non-profit organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest, conducted detailed lab tests on a number of popular processed foods that retail in grocery stores and supermarkets across the United States. The test results were a shocking revelation even to the researchers. Just half a portion of a large store bought ready pepperoni pizza contained over 1,300 mg of sodium, while store bought roasted turkeys contained over 5,400 mg of salt in a single serving. When you cook your own meals, you can control the amount of salt that goes into the dish, and lower your sodium intake to a healthy level.
Make simple and smart swaps in your diet without sacrificing taste to reduce salt intake. A single Egg McMuffin from McDonalds, for example, contains about 820 milligrams of sodium. Scrambled eggs made with two eggs, in contrast, contain 180 milligrams, and you can have healthy wholegrain bread with it. Most brands of canned tuna contain about 300 mg sodium in one serving, if the mayonnaise used with the tuna is excluded. Substitute it with a grilled steak made with fresh tuna and you bring down the sodium level to just 40 mg in a serving.
If you think having lots of salads is healthy, think again. Salads by themselves are very healthy and nutritious, but store bought salad dressing can have as much as 700 milligrams of salt in a 1.5-ounce serving. Having salad in a restaurant or using these dressings can actually end up adding large quantities of sodium to your diet. Make your own fresh salad and dressing at home for a truly healthy salad.
If you like fish and seafood, try to avoid smoked fishes as they contain a lot of salt, and go for grilled ones instead. Grilled fishes are also healthier since they contain less fat and are usually seasoned with a lot of fresh herbs.
A few other foods that are healthy, nutritious and tasty, without excessive sodium content:
- Plain unflavored yogurt
- Kiwi fruit
- White beans
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Flax seed
- Fresh fish
These foods contain a number of essential macro and micro nutrients without the added sodium content found in most processed foods. They also contain good concentrations of potassium, which makes them more beneficial for patients of high blood pressure. Incorporating these in your low salt diet will help meet your daily nutritional requirements without the unhealthiness of excessive sodium.
Other foods that you can add to your diet as substitutes for processed and high sodium content foods:
- Whole wheat bread instead of white bread
- Whole grain pasta instead of white pasta
- Unpolished rice instead of polished rice
- Oat bran instead of processed quick cooking oats
- Grilled tenderloin instead of other fattier parts of beef and pork
- Fresh tilapia instead of canned fish
These are just some of the many healthy alternatives out there that you can explore. It is not difficult to do away with processed and high sodium content foods from your diet. You can continue to enjoy food, eat out, cook with ease and try new interesting recipes while keeping the sodium low.
DASH diet for controlling high blood pressure
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a natural way to control or prevent high blood pressure without long term medication use. It is specially designed to help alleviate hypertension and ease the pressure on your cardiovascular system. DASH involves making dietary changes and make them a part of your lifestyle, so that you alter your diet for life.
DASH diet involves lowering the intake of sodium in your daily diet by replacing high sodium content foods with healthier alternatives. A lot of the dietary changes discussed earlier in this chapter also apply to the DASH diet. Table salt, and foods with high sodium content are replaced with unprocessed salts, and foods that contain less odium and more of other nutrients that help keep high blood pressure in check. The diet is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, among other things.
By diligently following the DASH diet, you can bring your blood pressure down by as much as 12 points over time, and will be able to see tangible results within weeks of starting the diet. Since the diet involves replacing unhealthy foods with healthier and more natural options, it not only helps keep blood pressure under control, but also assists you in getting healthier and fitter.
There are two types of DASH diet, based on your specific requirements and health condition.
- Standard DASH diet — In this diet, you are allowed to consume up to 2,300 milligrams of salt every day. It is great for people who do not have hypertension, but are looking for ways to prevent it. It is also useful for anyone who consumes a high sodium diet and is looking for healthier options to lower their salt intake.
- Low Sodium DASH diet — In this diet, you are allowed to consume a maximum of 1,500 milligrams of salt a day. The diet is more useful to those already suffering from high blood pressure and looking for ways to control it without medication, or with minimal assistance of mediation. It is also great for older adults with or without any medical conditions.
A normal individual today consumes as much as 3,500 mg of sodium on a daily basis in a regular diet. It is way more than the amount of sodium a healthy individual should consume on a daily basis. These two types of DASH diet help reduce overall intake of salt, so by replacing processed foods and other foods with a high salt content with low sodium alternatives. The dirt involves consuming a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with dairy products that are low fat, whole grains, nuts, poultry and fish. Red meats, processed foods, canned food, packed sauces are all best avoided or limited to a minimum.
The DASH diet is recommended not only for those with high blood pressure, but also as a preventive diet for cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It also works well if you are overweight and wish to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. It is a diet that is healthy, not drastic, easy to incorporate into your daily life, not expensive and sustainable in the long term.
Tips to lower salt intake in your everyday diet
Here are a few quick tips on how you can start your low salt diet and the things in your present diet that you can replace with healthier substitutes without sacrificing taste, flavor or the fun of eating:
- Buy sodium-free products or those low in sodium. Check labels for sodium in all its forms. Salt is used not just for the taste, but also as a preservative in many foods, so check well before buying.
- At restaurants, ask your server which foods on the menu are prepared without added salt, and order only those items. Alternatively, you can ask them to prepare the dishes you want with less or no salt.
- In your kitchen and at the dinner table, substitute salt with spices, herbs, seasoning, and salt-free blends to add flavor to your food without the excess sodium.
- Avoid instant foods such as breads and cereals because they usually contain high levels of salt. Also avoid ketchups, pickles and other table sauces as they have very high salt content.
- Rinse canned foods with water before consuming them to wash off some of the excess salt used for canning.
- Fresh produce has no sodium content, so incorporate lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. You can also add whole grains, unpolished rice and fresh unprocessed meats to your diet.
If you have been advised a low salt diet by your doctor, do not lose heart that you will only have to eat bland, tasteless food with no flavoring. You might be so used to salt in your food that cooking without it may seem impossible at first. However, as you can see, it is not only possible but also really simple and easy, and you get tasty food as well. There are a lot of sources online where you can find mouthwatering dishes that are completely devoid of sodium.
It might take a bit of an effort initially to reduce and control the amount of sodium in your diet, but it can be done without giving up on good food.