High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce reading
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High blood pressure lays the groundwork for a host of serious health complications, such as strokes and heart attacks. Fortunately, most people can keep their hypertension reading in check by eating a healthy diet. Cutting back on salt is key to this approach.
Salt raises your blood pressure in a number of ways. The common ingredient narrows the blood vessels, which is the most common “plumbing” feature of high blood pressure, explained Fernando Elijovich, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
Speaking to the American Heart Association (AHA), the professor said: “Within 30 minutes of eating excess salt, your blood vessels’ ability to dilate is impaired.”
What’s more, excessive salt intake forces the heart to work harder, thereby raising your blood pressure.
Professor Elijovich explained: “When there’s excess salt in your system, the heart pumps more blood in a given time, boosting blood pressure.”
What’s more, a high salt diet disrupts the natural sodium balance in the body.
“This causes fluid retention which increases the pressure exerted by the blood against blood vessel walls (high blood pressure),” warns Action on Salt, a UK-based group concerned with salt and its effects on health.
How serious are the numbers?
Action on Salt reckons that for every one gram of salt we cut from our average daily intake, there would be approximately 6,000 fewer deaths from strokes and heart attacks each year in the UK.
“It has been estimated that a reduction in salt intake from 10g a day to 6g will reduce blood pressure and could lead to a 16 percent reduction in deaths from strokes and a 12 percent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease,” says the health body.
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“This would prevent approximately 19,000 stroke and heart attack deaths in the UK each year and 2.6 million each year worldwide.”
Reducing salt is therefore one of the quickest ways to reduce your blood pressure, particularly if you already have high blood pressure.
Ways to reduce your salt intake
By learning some simple food swaps, understanding food labels and adding different flavours while cooking, you can slash your salt intake and still eat delicious food.
Blood Pressure UK advises against adding salt when cooking. “Try adding different flavours and allow a little time for your taste buds to adjust.”
The health body also says to avoid very salty flavourings. The health body explains: “Ready-made sauces, soy sauce, stock cubes and gravy granules can all be very salty, look out for low salt options or try some new flavourings.”
It also says to:
- Get extra flavour into your recipes
- Taste food before you add salt
- Take the salt shaker off the table
- Be careful of condiments
- Try a salt alternative.
- Make your own marinades.
How much salt is safe to consume?
The NHS says: “Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around one teaspoon.”
As the health body explains, in the UK labels on pre-packed food must say how much salt they contain.
“Look out for the salt content in the everyday foods you buy, and choose lower-salt options.”
It adds that most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging.
“Many foods also display information about the salt content on the front of the packaging.”
This may show the salt content as a percentage of your reference intake (RI), or have colour-coded nutrition information to show whether the salt content is:
- Green (low)
- Amber (medium)
- Red (high).
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