Salt and High Blood Pressure

Alvina Begay, R.D., registered dietitian September 13, 2013

It is estimated that one in three American adults have high blood pressure or hypertension. High blood pressure increases one’s chance for developing heart disease and stroke. Both of which are the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Too much salt or sodium in the diet can increase blood pressure and the risk for a heart attack. Current dietary guidelines recommend adults should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) of sodium per day. If you are in one of the following population groups, you should consume no more than 1,500 mg (approximately 2/3 teaspoon) per day:

• You are 51 years of age or older
• You are African American
• You have high blood pressure, diabetes, liver failure or chronic kidney disease

Nearly 70 percent of adults in the U.S. fall into one of these three groups. Eating less salt can help prevent and even lower blood pressure. It is estimated that reducing the average population’s sodium intake from 3,300 mg to 2,300 mg per day can save $18 million in healthcare expenses. Regardless of which type of salt you prefer (sea salt or other gourmet salts) intake should still be limited to less than 2,300 mg. All salt, whether labeled table salt or sea salt, comes from a salted body of water and will contribute to high blood pressure if consumed in excess.

Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, store bought and restaurant foods. Here are some tips to reduce sodium in your diet:

• Buy fresh, frozen or canned no-salt-added vegetables.
• Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat rather than canned or processed types (bologna, sausage, hot dogs, etc.).
• Use herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table; garlic, onions, pepper, lemon and vinegar add wonderful flavor to food.
• Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt.
• Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes.
• Cut back on frozen dinners or pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups and broths and salad dressings.
• Rinse canned foods, such as tuna or vegetables, to remove some sodium.
• When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium or no-salt-added versions of foods.  
• At restaurants, ask for nutritional information facts that include sodium; avoid soy, teriyaki and cheese sauces; ask that no salt be added during cooking. 

The DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – Eating Plan has been shown to reduce blood pressure. It is based on an eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy, whole grains and small amounts of lean meats, nuts and legumes. It is a low-sodium, high-fiber, low- to moderate-fat diet rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. The DASH diet is especially recommended for people with hypertension (high blood pressure) or pre-hypertension. For more information on the DASH diet, visit

Alvina Begay, R.D., is a registered dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit