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Eat less salt to lower blood pressure. Eating too much salt is the biggest cause of high 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.
Therefore cutting the amount of salt you eat is one of the quickest ways to lower your blood pressure (especially if you have high blood pressure). However this is easier said than done as most of the salt we consume is already in food we eat.
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 - the latest data shows we’re consuming around 8g a day. Although current intake is down from 8.5g in 2011 and 8.8g in 2005/2006 it’s still too high.
Most of the salt we eat every day is ‘hidden’ which means it’s already in processed foods like bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals, and prepared ready meals or takeaways. This ‘hidden’ salt accounts for around 75% of the salt we eat, only 25% comes from the salt we add while cooking or at the table.
What salt levels mean
To avoid 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 food labels, 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 - Try to avoid these.
What sodium levels mean
By law companies have to list the salt content of a food on the packaging however for some imported foods the label may still list how much sodium it contains. Salt is sodium chloride and the sodium is the part that raises blood pressure.
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 - Try to avoid these.
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.
Tips to eat less salt and help your blood pressure
- Don’t add salt when cooking. This includes salty foods like soy sauce, stock cubes and gravy granules.
- 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.
- Jarred cooking sauces and 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 and processed meats and fish contain a lot of salt. Limit your intake of these.
- 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.
At first, food without salt may 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. 6g of salt a day is the maximum you should eat, and the less you eat the better.
Sodium in medication and supplements
Effervescent and soluble tablets, for example vitamin C supplements and soluble painkillers such as aspirin and Alka Seltzer, contain sodium carbonate or bicarbonate which makes them fizz.
However the sodium in these supplements is just as harmful and these tablets can contain the equivalent of 1g of salt so try to avoid these and use non-effervescent alternatives.