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Been diagnosed with high blood pressure? Perhaps you’re eating too much salt.

More and more people are going to their GP with a complaint totally unrelated and coming away with a high blood pressure diagnosis. In our true fashion we go away and get on good old Google to ask what we’re doing wrong. Lots of the information tells us that we’re eating too much salt – so, are we? What are the latest research recommendations?


First things first let’s clear a few things up that you might have been bamboozled with in your online searches. When we talk salt, what we’re actually considering, as nutritionists is your intake of sodium chloride – that 6g salt recommendation equates to 2.3g of sodium chloride, for that reason you might see a ‘high salt’ diet online written as anything over 2.3g – that’s sodium chloride, not insanely low quantities of salt.


It's also worth remembering that we are given daily recommendations for our salt intake because they are relatively easy to quantify compared to weekly recommendations or even longer. As with our energy intake and just about all of our other health behaviours what actually matters is our salt intake over time – not really in the time frame of a day for our overall health markers. Maybe in terms of hydration, daily intake matters – but not really our blood pressure long term.


Another thing that is pivotal to remember is that government guidelines and recommendations, as with any of them, not just salt related, are very generalised. Salt isn’t always ‘bad’. Salt is actually necessary to sustain life, we need it to live in some way, shape or form, all of us. Beyond there, there are certain populations that would require more salt in their nutrition than others, for example - I certainly wouldn’t recommend a super low salt diet to an athlete training with high intensity regularly for example, that’s the quickest path to severe cramps.


Blood pressure, in its simplest form, is affected by your heart function, the health of your circulatory system, and the one that we can have the biggest impact on from day to day, volume of blood in our bodies. The way in which we can affect this the most is, of course, by how hydrated we are because blood is largely water – so the more dehydrated we are, the lower our blood pressure will be. Following? Good.


So that’s low blood pressure? What about high blood pressure?


If we drastically increase our salt intake, our blood pressure will increase short term due to being more hydrated, BUT if that is as far as it goes, that will not pose a significant long term health risk if a person is otherwise healthy – a different thing altogether if you have existing health conditions, if you do, this information is generalised and not for you! In simpler terms, in healthy individuals, salt may increase blood pressure short-term without causing long term high blood pressure issues and the associated health risks.


The research also tells us that despite a long-term increase in salt in our nutrition potentially being suboptimal for our health, there is a point at which increasing salt further doesn’t actually cause blood pressure to move any higher. That is not, however, an indication to pop as much on as humanly possible – you might as well, it isn’t causing any more damage after all. So, what are we to do if we have been diagnosed with high blood pressure?


Well, it goes without saying and I have said it many, many times before here – I am not a medical professional, I am a nutritionist. This is not individual to you and if you are worried then you should seek specialist advice…but here goes:


For many people, we simply don’t eat enough whole, unprocessed foods. We eat so much food outside of its ‘natural’ form, be it meat, veggies, fruits, if it differs from the form in which it was ‘harvested’ let’s say, it’s processed. I truly believe that if we focussed on reducing our intake of what we might term ‘junk’ food (note REDUCING, not CUTTING OUT) we would target so many health problems that the world is currently experiencing, I’m thinking certain cancers, diabetes and the obesity epidemic, rather than focusing on the nuances of salt alone.


I have looked at so many clients’ food diaries in my time and I can tell you that overeating our recommended salt intake doesn’t usually come from putting salt on our food at the table (elder populations aside), but rather the amount of processed foods that are so readily available to us now.


Because of the increased consumption of highly processed foods in our world as it is, it is unsurprising that an increase in salt in our nutrition is correlated with various other conditions such as heart disease, stroke risk etc. all often stemming from high blood pressure as a risk factor.


So, diagnosed with high blood pressure? What is your processed food intake like? It’s worth addressing that one as a starting point.


I know this is difficult to contextualise without the guidance of someone a little more knowledgeable sometimes so if you would like me to cast my eye over a food diary for you just get in touch – I’m more than happy to help!


Peace and love for now, A x

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