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A guide to sodium and blood pressure

If you have blood pressure problems or even if you take medications for high blood pressure, you will benefit from checking your sodium consumption.

Watching your sodium means much more than making sure you don't add table salt. If you want to reduce your blood pressure, you need to count how much sodium you consume in a day.

Salt is a mineral that is made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium is an essential electrolyte used for major functions in your body. If we test your blood level, your sodium should remain normal even if you have high blood pressure. In your laboratory report, sodium is the result that shows up as "Na".

"So if my sodium level is always the same, why should I care how much I eat?"
Salt on drumsticks

Your body is great at keeping your blood levels of sodium normal, but if you're consuming a lot of it, you will be working that much harder to keep the levels in a normal range. Between the moment it's absorbed, and the moment your body removes it, through filtering in the kidneys, your arteries and organs are seeing an increase in blood pressure.

You may have heard that eating salt makes you retain water and swell up. This is true. The level of sodium measured in your blood is a concentration. If you eat a lot of sodium, your body will retain water and dilute the sodium. Your level stays the same. Then your kidneys go to work, getting rid of the excess sodium, and at the same time, the excess water.

More Salt, More Water, High Blood Pressure

A healthy diet should have less that 2 grams of sodium. When we eat more than 2 grams, we increase our risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.

#1: Where is sodium hidden?

#2: How much are you eating?


#1: Where is sodium hidden?

Sodium isn't just in table salt. It's used everywhere in large amounts as a preservative and it's also present naturally in smaller amounts in almost all foods. Another place you will find hidden sodium is in restaurant foods. In combination with high levels of fat, sodium is partly why fast food is so delicious.

A CDC report states that you will get "1,848 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories" in food from a fast food restaurant, and "2,090 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories" from a dine-in restaurant.

High levels of sodium in restaurant food and in preservatives will increase your blood pressure.

#2: How much are you eating?

A simple way to know is to look at the Nutritional Contents on all your products. The sodium level is listed and should be indicated in milligrams. Make sure to check the serving size and calculate how much you are eating. Stay under 2000 mg per day.

If the sodium content isn't listed or it's produce like vegetables, you can Google it very easily. Don't forget to check your drinks! You would be surprise. Cola has 75 mg per can!

What if you're eating out? You can Google it here as well, or you can estimate it based on the CDC's math and how many calories you are eating. 1000 calories in a restaurant is about 2000 mg!

You don't need to count your sodium every day. Try being more aware of the sodium content by checking labels to start. Switch to low sodium options and avoid products that make your sodium skyrocket. Common sources are soups, sauces, dressings, and other packaged foods.

#3: What to expect?

This is variable. Studies have shown that some people are more sensitive to sodium levels than others. These sensitive people will see a more dramatic drop in their blood pressure if they watch their intake. You could see a drop of 15 points in systolic blood pressure (Blood pressure = Systolic / Diastolic, e.g. 120/80) and a drop of 6 points in diastolic blood pressure.

"What if it isn't working?"
  1. If you are certain that you're eating less than 2000 mg of sodium per day, check again and aim for less than 1500 milligrams in case you're getting hidden sodium.

  2. If it still isn't working, you may be one of those people who are not sensitive to sodium. You'll need to focus on other areas. Reducing your alcohol consumption, losing weight, stopping smoking, and doing vigorous activity are other ways to improve your blood pressure without medication.

  3. For more guidance, you can book an appointment with me to discuss any specific issues with your blood pressure.

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