Salt: Why Less is More for this Essential Nutrient

The evidence is clear that the higher the intake of salt and other sodium-containing foods, the higher the blood pressure.

Globally, high blood pressure is a risk factor that causes approximately half of all strokes and heart disease.1 Reducing blood pressure to a normal range can lower the risk of heart disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.1 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend reducing daily sodium intake to about 2,300 milligrams (mg) and to 1,500 mg in people who are 51 years of age and older or who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.2

This is about half of today’s average intake, which is still several times than the amount needed for human health.3

For those who already have high blood pressure, a meta-analysis published in 2011, the authors showed that lowering salt intake in people with hypertension produced a modest improvement blood pressure.4 The Dietary Guidelines state that nearly all adults and children can benefit from eating less salt and sodium-containing foods.2

Cutting back
Leaving the salt shaker in the cupboard is an obvious strategy but is a relatively small help because almost all of the salt in the American diet comes from processed foods.2 Focusing food choices on more wholesome, less processed food can help. In addition, food manufacturers are increasing being asked to progressively reduce the salt used in their products. Evidence suggest that people prefer less salt following a sustained period of lower sodium intake.5

In addition to eating less salt, blood pressure can be lowered by losing excess weight, increasing the intake of potassium (sources include fruits, vegetables and dairy products) and consuming alcohol in moderation (if at all).6

Exercise also has a positive effect. A 2002 meta-analysis of studies done this area found that aerobic exercise was linked to a significant lowering of mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This held true for both those with high blood pressure and normal blood pressure. It also was consistently found for both overweight and normal-weight participants.7

Weight Watchers Approach
Making smart food choices is one of the cornerstones of the PointsPlus Weight-Loss System. Eating recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods as well as focusing on foods that are wholesome, filling and less processed, helps reduce salt intake. This, along with weight loss and regular physical activity, is great for achieving or maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

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1 World Health Organization. Creating an enabling environment for population-based salt reduction strategies: report of a joint technical meeting held by WHO and the Food Standards Agency, United Kingdom, July 2010.

2 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

3 Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium Chloride, and Sulfate. 1st ed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2004.

4 Graudal NA, Hubeck-Graudal T, Jurgens G. Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Nov 9;(11):CD004022.

5 Bertino M, Beauchamp GK, Engelman K. Long-term reduction in dietary sodium alters the taste of salt . Am J Clin Nutr 36: 1134, 1982.

6 Appel LJ et al. Dietary approaches to prevent and treat hypertension. Hypertension 47: 296, 2006.

7 Whelton SP et al. Effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials . Ann Int Med 136: 493, 2002.