For decades I’ve made spaghetti sauce for family and friends. Twenty or so years ago I noticed that the day after the meal I’d gained a few pounds and was unusually thirsty. I was perplexed until I learned the canned tomatoes, pastes, and purees I was using were high in salt. Here I was, a cardiologist, and I hadn’t made the connection. Excess salt contributes to water retention and that was my problem. Of course, too much salt also contributes to high blood pressure. I quickly changed my ways.
The average adult consumes the equivalent of nearly two teaspoons of salt a day—practically two times the upper limit for good health. The majority of that excess salt is hidden in processed foods, such as canned spaghetti sauces, canned and packaged soups preapared pizza crusts, fast food chicken, and sauerkraut.
Here are some things you need to know about salt and high blood pressure:
- Your body requires sodium (a component of salt) to regulate fluid balance and distribution, as well as nerve and muscle cell function. Although you need some sodium, the standard diet includes way too much.
- Aim for about 2.8 grams of sodium a day if you're healthy. Don’t use salt from the shaker and read labels to add up the amount you’re taking in.
- Watch the restaurant menus—many food items, especially in fast food restaurants, are high in salt.
- Cook with fresh herbs and spices, instead of salt. Try such seasonings such as basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chives, parsley, and onion. Not only are they sodium-free, these flavorings contain natural substances that are good for your health.
Now It's Your Turn: How do you cut back on salt to prevent high blood pressure?