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6 Tips to Reduce Sodium Intake for Hypertension

High sodium intake has long been studied by researchers as a potential culprit of high blood pressure (hypertension), a condition that can lead to stroke, heart failure, vision loss, kidney damage, and vascular dementia. 

For adults, the American Heart Association suggests a daily sodium intake of no more than  2,300 mg with the ideal sodium intake being 1,500 mg. However, Harvard Health states that the average American ingests 3,400 mg a day with men 20 and above ingesting more than 4,200 mg a day. 

If you want to lower your blood pressure or want to keep your salt intake at a healthy level, here are some tips to reduce sodium. 

1. Consult your doctor on what your sodium limit should be

If you need to limit your sodium intake because you have hypertension, you should discuss with your doctor on the maximum amount of salt you can take in each day. For people whose high blood pressure is especially concerning, they may need to stick to a more rigorous diet plan. 

2. Avoid eating out, especially ordering salt-heavy dishes

When you’re not preparing and cooking your own food, you often have little control or knowledge over how much salt goes inside your body. That’s why you should try to limit your trips to restaurants, especially those that serve fast food. 

However, sometimes you would eat out because you’re too busy to cook or because you want to socialize. In these cases, you can ask the waiter to recommend something low-sodium, and if possible, ask the chef to prepare your dish with less salt or no salt.

If you’re going to a fast-food chain, you can usually find each food item’s nutritional information online or at the restaurant. Research beforehand and choose an item that fits your diet plan.

3. Read the nutrition fact labels to make informed decisions

When buying any pre-packaged food, read the nutrition fact label (if available) to find out how much salt it contains. Remember to put the quantity of salt into the perspective of the serving size. With some foods, even though the sodium level per serving is low, you may end up eating multiple servings. 

For example, with Lays classic potato chips, one serving size is 1 oz, which contains 125 mg of salt in it, and a medium-sized bag of chips is 8 oz, which would contain 1,000 mg. 

Reading nutrition fact labels is the best way to get an accurate idea on how much salt you’re taking in. An alternative way is to look for foods labeled “sodium-free,” “low-sodium,” “reduced sodium,” etc. Here’s what the labels mean according to the FDA:

  • Sodium-free: less than 5 mg per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium: having 25% or less sodium than regular products
  • Lightly salted: having 50% or less than regular products
  • No-salt-added or unsalted: no salted added during processing, but food products may still have naturally occurring sodium in them. 

The above labels can give you information about sodium levels at a glance, however, remember to take serving size into account.  

4. Avoid processed foods as much as possible 

FDA states that  75% of sodium consumed by Americans came from packaged foods or restaurant foods and only 11% percent comes from added salt during home-cooking. A lot of foods available in the supermarket have been processed with added salt (and sugar). 

For fruits and vegetables, buy fresh whenever possible. Frozen vegetables sometimes have salt added to enhance flavor, and canned vegetables and fruits are often preserved in brine (salty water). Therefore when buying canned or frozen vegetables and fruits, always read the nutrition fact labels to find out how much salt they have. Buy those that are labeled “low sodium,” or “no salt added” when possible and remember to read the labels for more information.  

Examples of salt-heavy, processed vegetable products include olives, pickles, and sauerkraut.

For meats, avoid cured, smoked, and processed meats in general such as sausages, ham, bacon, pepperoni, salami, chorizo, and smoked salmon. Instead, buy unprocessed meats (preferably lean cut) that are fresh or frozen. 

Chicken is often injected with salt water to make it juicier and plumper. Beware of this common practice among poultry producers as it will add extra salt into your diet. 

Among sources of carbohydrates, bread, has a surprisingly high sodium level. One slice of white bread can contain 80-230 mg of salt. 

Please note that all fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains have naturally occurring sodium in them. Despite this, it is still better to opt for fresh, unprocessed foods over processed foods.

5. Avoid or be cautious with these everyday high-sodium foods:

  • Bread and rolls 
  • Deli meat
  • Pizza, frozen or restaurant-made 
  • Soups/canned soups 
  • Sandwiches, hamburgers, hotdogs, etc 
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Snacks: chips, crackers, popcorn, and pretzels
  • Chicken: fresh or processed 
  • Cheese: fresh or processed
  • Egg dishes and omelets
  • Canned pasta

6. Keep a journal of your sodium-intake

If you’re serious about limiting salt in your diet, keep a journal of how much you’ve ingested throughout the day. This can help you stay on track.

Hopefully, the above tips can help you successfully reduce your salt intake and improve your health. To manage your hypertension more effectively, take regular exercise, have a balanced diet, and monitor your blood pressure frequently. 

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