Navigating the Link Between Sodium, Hypertension, and Cardiovascular Wellness
Did you know that hypertension accounts for the largest proportion of modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, both in the United States and globally?
High blood pressure (or hypertension) means your blood pressure is consistently too high, and your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. There are usually no symptoms, but if left untreated, it increases your risk of cardiovascular events. That’s why getting your blood pressure checked regularly is so important.
New York Cancer & Blood Specialist’s Director of Nutritional Services Wendy Kaplan, RDN, notes that when selecting foods based on food labels, the sodium in food is often overlooked in favor of other nutritional aspects such as calories, fat, and protein. Sodium is hidden in many unsuspected and seemingly healthy foods.
“Salt consists of two minerals: sodium and chloride. These minerals play a role in maintaining hydration, supporting nerve and muscle function, and aiding digestion,” Kaplan explains. “Excessive sodium can be detrimental to health.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the average daily sodium intake for Americans exceeds 3,400 milligrams, surpassing the recommended federal limit of less than 2,300 milligrams. This excessive salt consumption can contribute to elevated blood pressure, with almost half of U.S. adults currently experiencing hypertension. Adults should aim for no more than six grams of salt daily (about one teaspoon).
When people are diagnosed with hypertension, even just a small reduction in systolic (the top number) blood pressure (5 mm Hg) reduces major cardiac events such as heart attack or stroke by 10%.
“There are misconceptions surrounding sodium, one being that the saltshaker is the primary target to change. Rather, a few key diet-related tweaks and strategies can keep your toolbox full,” says Kaplan. Adopting a healthy eating pattern, including foods rich in potassium, magnesium, polyphenols, nitrates and fiber, is a good starting point.”
Reducing alcohol consumption, consuming less ultra-processed foods, increasing physical activity, managing stress levels, and achieving a healthy weight are also key components to effectively managing hypertension and reducing cardiovascular disease risk.