When it comes to tackling hypertension, millions of Americans are recommended to modify their diet (in addition to increasing their physical activity). Why does diet play such an important role in lowering risk for high blood pressure and even reversing it altogether?
Much of the culinary equation comes down to sodium, or as many Americans consume it, table salt. Biochemically speaking, sodium works in conjunction with potassium as electrolytes which help maintain the delicate water balance of the cells in your body.
Over 90% of your blood is comprised of water molecules which are essential to helping transport nutrients and oxygen, regulating your temperature, supporting waste excretion, and giving life to your cells. Water finds its way in and out of your cells through osmosis, and when there is too much fluid in the bloodstream, the kidneys pull it out through the cell’s semipermeable membranes and channel it into the bladder to be excreted.
When you over-consume salt, sodium builds up in your blood stream causing you to retain fluid thus adding more and more stress to the kidneys as they have to work harder and harder to filter it out. The strain on the critical blood vessels around the kidneys as well as the increase in blood volume cause your blood pressure to shoot up to dangerously high levels.
The higher your blood pressure (the force at which blood moves through your arteries) goes, the more pressure it places on vulnerable blood vessel and artery walls, and the harder your heart has to work to keep blood circulating. Chronic hypertension leads to heart disease, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.
So in a country where the average American consumes 2 to 3x as much salt as is recommended, is it possible to successfully limit sodium intake? Absolutely! Don’t miss these 3 helpful ideas:
Prepare Whole Foods
Nothing will save your diet quite like preparing your own meals from whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Many pre-packaged and processed foods contain high amounts of sodium (and sugar, bad fats, etc), and make it harder to track how much salt you are truly eating. Executing your own healthy meals by hand not only makes you more accountable to what you eat, but ensures they you are taking more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants naturally than you are table salt.
Read Nutritional Labels
Want to know how much sodium you are consuming? By law, the companies who make your food have to tell you so do the right thing, turn your can, box, or whatever it is over, and read the nutritional label. 1 cup of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, for example, has over 900 mg of sodium in it – that’s over half of your daily recommended allotment. Combine that with a grilled cheese made with salted butter and you’re definitely over your limit with only one meal. You can learn a lot by reading the nutritional label on the packaged foods you buy, don’t ignore them!
Be Smart About Eating Out
Unfortunately, when a restaurant prepares your food, you’re going to know less about its actual nutritional properties than if you were to prepare it yourself, so be ready to ask after nutritional data when ordering out, or simply know the basics of high sodium foods. On average, a fast food burger with fries will have close to if not more than your daily recommended amount of sodium (1,500mg). One slice of pizza could have upwards of 600mg of sodium, especially if it has extra cheese or salty meats on it. And one bagel could even have over 400mg of sodium in it.
Learning to track your blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure monitor is a first step in taking control of your health to lower your risk of heart disease. Combined with moderate routine exercise and a salt-limiting diet, you will be well on your way to tackling hypertension for good.