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One of the quickest ways to lower your blood pressure (especially if you have high blood pressure) is to eat less salt.
Salt raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be.
Salt makes your body retain water. If you eat too much, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. This can be a particular problem if you have high blood pressure. Also, eating too much salt may mean that blood pressure medicines, such as diuretics, don't work as well.
How much salt is too much?
An adult should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but most of us eat much more than this.
Most of the salt we eat every day is "hidden". Roughly 80% of the salt we eat is hiding in processed foods like bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals, and prepared ready meals or takeaways. Only 20% comes from the salt we add while cooking or at the table.
What salt levels mean
To avoid the hidden salt and cut down your salt intake, it is best to eat foods that are low in salt and stop using salt when cooking or at the table.
By reading the food label, you can see if a food is low, medium or high in salt (do not confuse with sodium, see below):
- Low - 0.3g salt or less per 100g of food - Eat plenty of these
- Medium - 0.3-1.5g salt per 100g of food - Eat small amounts occasionally
- High - 1.5g salt or more per 100g of food - Avoid these completely
What sodium levels mean
Some labels may not say how much salt the food contains, but may say how much sodium it contains. Sodium is one of the chemicals in salt. 1g of sodium is the same as 2.5g of salt.
- Low - 0.1g sodium or less per 100g of food - Eat plenty of these
- Medium - 0.1-0.6g sodium per 100g of food - Eat small amounts occasionally
- High - 0.6 sodium or more per 100g of food - Avoid if possible
If the label does not say how much salt or sodium the food contains, look at the ingredients list. The closer to the top of the list salt appears, the more salt it is likely to contain.
8 ways to eat less salt and help your blood pressure
- Don’t add salt when cooking. This includes things like soy sauce, curry powders and stock cubes.
- Get extra flavour with herbs and spices, and from seasonings like chilli, ginger, lemon or lime juice.
- If you really can't do without a salty favour, you could try using a small amount of low-sodium salt substitute. If you have kidney problems or diabetes, check with your doctor or nurse first.
- Table sauces like ketchup, mustard and pickles can contain a lot of salt. Check the label and choose low-salt options.
- Bread and breakfast cereals can contain a lot of salt. Check the labels to compare brands.
- Smoked meats and fish contain a lot of salt. Avoid these if you can.
- If you are eating out, ask if your meal can be made with less salt. This may not be possible, but it is always worth asking.
- Look out for low-salt recipes. There are a number of low-salt cookbooks available, or you can search on the Internet.
Don’t be too concerned about the exact amount of salt you eat, instead try to always eat foods with the lowest salt level. 6g of salt a day is the maximum you should eat, and the less you eat the better.
At first, food without salt can taste bland, but don’t give up. After a few weeks your taste buds will adjust and you will start to enjoy food with less salt.