Published: 12/23/2006 - Updated: 08/13/2019
Author: Dra. Loredana Lunadei
Salt is the popular name used to refer to sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt is essential to life and to enjoy good health. Hypertension or high blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disorders and stroke. It is related to high consumption of sodium and low potassium intake. What are the recommendations to reduce salt consumption and make a difference?
The importance of salt
Salt, or sodium chloride, is used to preserve food and flavor. It is also present in foods naturally. 1 gram of sodium is equivalent to approximately 2.5 g of salt. The sodium and chlorine help regulate blood pressure, control the balance of fluids in the body and maintain appropriate conditions for the functioning of muscles and nerves. Sodium facilitates the absorption of certain nutrients such as glucose and amino acids. The body of an adult usually contains about 90 grams of sodium, of this amount, half is in the blood and other body fluids, more than one third is in the bones and the rest is inside the cells. The average consumption of sodium varies between 2 and 6 g per day, while adults can live healthily with less than 0.5 g per day. The needs increase when large doses are gone, such as during menstruation, breastfeeding or if you sweat a lot. Reducing the consumption of salt is one of the priorities of the public health response to hypertension because of its potential to reduce the number of cases in the whole population.
Most foods naturally contain potassium. Fruits and vegetables are especially good sources of potassium. In our body, potassium is found primarily inside the cells. Involved in important functions throughout the body and is involved in the same functions as the sodium, playing a complementary role for it; the balance between these two elements is essential for the organism.
Blood pressure – contrast the effects of sodium and potassium
The ability of the kidneys to excrete or retain sodium is a key factor in regulating blood pressure. The majority of scientific studies show that reducing salt consumption reduces blood pressure, and this effect was more pronounced in hypertensive individuals, the obese and the elderly. The response to the reduction of salt consumption varies greatly between different people and cannot bring noticeable benefits in people with normal initial levels. Conversely, hypotension or low blood pressure is linked to high consumption of potassium, and may be due to its ability to increase the excretion of sodium and potassium vasoactive effects on blood vessels.
Foods rich in potassium and low sodium
The best sources of potassium are fresh foods recently got, as the process can alter the level of potassium. Furthermore, raw foods contain little sodium while processed foods are the main source of sodium in our diet.
The most important thing for the blood pressure is lifestyle
Obesity and low physical activity influence potassium in blood and pressure that is high consumption of sodium. The reduced consumption of calcium and magnesium and a high proportion of saturated fats compared to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are also important. Lately, DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) attracted considerable interest benefits since is rich in fruits, vegetables and cereals (to increase the amount of potassium and fiber) and fat dairy products including, fish, vegetables, chicken and lean meat. If you keep salt consumption at level, this shows a significant drop in blood pressure. Table 2 illustrates the potential benefits to blood pressure alterations in lifestyle.
Experts recommend reducing consumption of salt
Over the past 20 years, the literature has thoroughly discussed the evidence linking salt consumption with blood pressure and the implications of such evidence for the establishment of public health policies that have been analyzed in detail by expert committees from countries around the world, including U.S. and UK. Given that our current levels of salt consumption is unnecessarily high, it is advisable to reduce the amount used 5-6 g of salt (2-2,4 g sodium) per day. It is also recommended to consume 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, habit that has been shown to result in numerous health benefits, including increased consumption of potassium.
Body can adapt to a lower consumption of salt, but it may take 2 or 3 months to get used to consume half the usual sodium. There are other ways to spice up the food, such as increased use of pepper and herbs and spices, fresh or dried. The salt substitutes, potassium-based compounds, can also serve well also contribute to increasing the consumption of potassium. Although the flavor and the fact that they are not as good as salt preservatives have limited their use, the food industry has recently developed new products to overcome these drawbacks.
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2. Geleijnse, J.M., F.J. Kok, and D.E. Grobbee, Impact of dietary and lifestyle factors on the prevalence of hypertension in Western populations. European Journal of Public Health, 2004. 14: p. 235-239.
3. Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. 2004, The National Academies Press: Washington.
4. Sacks, FM, et al. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 2001. 344: p. 3-10.
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5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 7th Report of the U.S. Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection Evaluation, Treatment of Hypertension, JNC 7 Express, 2003. p. 8.
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8. Geleijnse, J.M., Grobbee, D.E. and Kok, FJ, Impact of dietary and lifestyle factors on the prevalence of hypertension in Western populations. Journal of Human Hypertension, 2005. 19: p. S1-S4.
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