If you have high blood pressure, simply reducing the amount of salt in your diet can be an effective way to address hypertension.
Finding low sodium options on the go, however, can prove difficult, as some restaurant portions contain a day’s worth of sodium in a single meal.
There are cellphone applications that can help consumers become more aware of their intake of everything from calories to sodium, said Lynn A. Maarouf, a certified nutritionist with the Stark Diabetes Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Maarouf recommended downloading Calorie King, Calorie Counter or MyFitness
“These are nice, because people can look up things while in a restaurant waiting to order,” Maarouf said.
Maarouf uses the free phone applications when she teaches. She asks students to research foods they would order at a restaurant.
“About 50 percent of the time they look at me with a shocked expression on their face once they see the numbers,” Maarouf said.
A diet high in salt, or sodium chloride, is a major cause of stroke and heart disease, and Americans have been consuming more salt over the last 25 years, according to a study by Michael F. Jacobson called “Salt: The Forgotten Killer.”
Consuming more salt tends to increase blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
About 65 million Americans have high blood pressure, and 45 million more have pre-hypertension. About 90 percent of Americans will eventually develop hypertension, the study states.
African Americans have a 60 percent greater risk of hypertension, and Americans in general spend more than $15 billion annually on blood pressure medications, the study says.
Sodium intake has increased during the last 30 years and averages about 4,000 milligrams per day, about twice the recommended amount. Many restaurants provide more than a day’s sodium intake in a meal.
The body needs only 500 milligrams of sodium daily, Maarouf said.
U.S. dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. However, the recommendation is 1,500 milligrams daily for those 51 and older or those with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Maarouf said. The 1,500 milligrams limit is also recommended for African Americans.
“Just a pinch of salt here and there can quickly add up to unhealthy levels of sodium,” Maarouf said.
One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium.
“Many processed and prepared foods already contain lots of sodium,” Maarouf said. “Be aware that not just adding table salt to your baked potato is dangerous.”
Reducing sodium consumption could save an estimated 150,000 lives annually and reduce medical care and other costs by $1.5 trillion over 20 years, the study claims.
Maarouf recommended The Dash Diet, an eating plan, for those seeking ways to lower sodium intake and blood pressure. The diet has been shown to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, according to the diet’s website.