I was recently teaching one of The Rite Bite’s Diabetes Bootcamp sessions for a group of about 12. During this class, one gentleman innocently asked, “does the amount of salt you eat matter?” Of course he meant in regards to diabetes and blood glucose control, but I answered him in the spirit of good health for all individuals with and without diabetes. “YES, salt does matter!”
Why does salt matter? It matters because your blood pressure is affected by it. Salt and water go hand-in-hand. The salt (also referred to as sodium) in your body retains water with it. If your diet is high in sodium, the amount of water retained in your body will increase your blood volume. When your blood volume is greater, your heart has to work harder to pump the blood through your circulatory system.
Let’s look at what blood pressure is for a minute. When you go the doctor and the nurse takes your vitals, your blood pressure is one of the measurements taken. It is one number over another; might be 120 over 80, 159 over 99, or 102 over 68. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure. This is the amount of pressure your heart and arteries are under when blood is being pumped away from the heart out to the limbs. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. This is the amount of pressure on your heart and arteries in between beats, when the heart is filling with more blood to pump out on its next beat. A healthy blood pressure is less than 120 over less than 80.
When your salt intake is high, you retain excess water. Ultimately this can raise your blood pressure. It affects all of us, but certain individuals are more “salt-sensitive” and will see a greater rise in blood pressure based on their dietary salt intake. To minimize the damage that sodium may have on your blood pressure, aim to meet the most recent (2010) recommendations from The Dietary Guidelines for Americans which suggest keeping intakes of this mineral below 1500 mg per day. To put this in perspective, one teaspoon of salt provides 2,300 mg of sodium. Sodium is found in almost all foods too. The food label is the best resource for identifying the quantity of sodium in the foods you eat. One idea: write down how much sodium is in all the foods you eat in a single day. How do you compare to the recommendation for health?