By Dr. Deborah Field

10-20% of people with high blood pressure (hypertension) are salt sensitive.  This means that the sodium contained in dietary salt stiffens their blood vessels and raises their blood pressure.

Overweight individuals are also likely to be salt sensitive. As are unfit people. So, because many people with high blood pressure are also unfit and overweight, reducing sodium intake from dietary salt is an essential first step for managing high blood pressure.

If you have hypertension, research shows that by reducing sodium intake by 1700mg per day can reduce your systolic BP by 5 mm Hg. This could be enough to reduce the need for medications for some people. The only way to detect if you are salt sensitive is to take a trial of around six weeks of salt restriction to see whether your blood pressure comes down.

Even if you do not have high blood pressure, a diet very high in salt (and therefore sodium) increases the risk of stroke and of dying from all causes of heart disease. So, not surprisingly there is a strong worldwide public health push to reduce the amount of salt added to processed foods.

How much salt is enough? Salt contains sodium chloride, sometimes shown as NaCI on food labels. The part that's of concern for health is the sodium. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that Australian adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is found in around 6,000 mg, or one teaspoon, of salt. The American Heart Association has found that people who consume less than 1500 mg/day of sodium have lower blood pressure.

Based on NHMRC info, here's a quick guide to how much sodium is in these small amounts of salt...

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 600mg sodium

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200mg sodium

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800mg sodium

  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300mg sodium

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda = 1,000 mg sodium

Unprocessed foods including meat and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. The main dietary sources of sodium are from processed foods, some of which don't necessarily taste salty at all. Basically everything in a bottle, pack or tin is processed and likely to have added salt:

  • Breads

  • Tinned foods

  • Margarine and butter

  • Snack foods

  • Breakfast cereals

  • Convenience foods, frozen pizzas, salad dressings, frozen dinners, canned soups, broths

  • Processed meats

How to reduce your salt intake at home...

  • Try not to cook with salt and don't add salt at the table to cooked food. If you do already add salt, reduce your amount by 50% for a few weeks to allow your taste buds to get used to the taste. After a few weeks, reduce the amount again and repeat until you are adding none.

  • To flavour your cooking, use salt alternatives such as herbs and spices, garlic, pepper, lemon, oregano, parsley, basil, curry powder, ginger etc. Most spices naturally contain very small amounts of sodium.

  • Limit salty snacks like chips and pretzels. If you can't resist snacks, have fruit, nuts etc instead.

  • Rinse canned foods before using to remove some of the sodium.

  • Throw out the salt shaker. Use a salt grinder instead it's much easier to control the amount of added salt.

How to reduce your salt intake at the supermarket...

  • Check labels for sodium content.  Look for salt-reduced varieties of foods and choose fresh, frozen or canned food items without added salt.

  • Try to avoid instant foods as they have lots of added salt.

  • Select unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils.

  • Select unsalted, lower sodium, fat-free broths, bouillons or soups

  • Check labels for sodium content - look for salt-reduced varieties of these foods and choose fresh, frozen or canned food items without added salts.

How to reduce your salt intake when dining out...

  • Add your own salt to fries.

  • Specify how you want your food prepared when dining out.  Ask for your meal to be prepared without salt.

But, if you just love salt too much to make these changes...

  • Exercise reduces blood pressure

  • 30 minutes of brisk daily physical activity can reduce systolic blood pressure by 7 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg in most people.

Weight loss reduces blood pressure...

  • Losing 10 kg, if you are overweight, will reduce your systolic BP by 6-10 mm Hg. Each 1% reduction in your body weight can reduce diastolic blood pressure by 2 mm Hg in most people.

Have a Pharmacist send your prescription to you.