The following is an excerpt from Should I Eat the Yolk? Separating Facts from Myths to Get You Lean, Fit, and Healthy by Jamie Hale. In this entry, the author discusses the still pervasive question concerning sodium intake from salt and its effect on blood pressure. Follow the link for more information and to purchase this informative book! After the excerpt, I discuss a few additional blood pressure questions, which both within and outside the realm of food intake, but pertinent to any individual searching for answers about salt intake and hypertension.
Is Sodium Bad for My Health?
Answer: Restriction of salt intake is not advised for the general population. To avoid excess salt, eat foods low in salt, eat high-sodium foods in moderation, and add moderate amounts of salt to foods. In some hypertensive people, the restriction of salt causes a decrease in blood pressure. In others, little or no change occurs. And in yet others, blood pressure may actually increase with salt restriction. Hypertensive individuals should seek medical advice with regard to sodium.
Investigation: Sodium is essential for life and is classified as a dietary inorganic macro-mineral for animals. Sodium is important for nervous system function and water balance. In general, humans eat significantly more sodium than required. For people with salt-sensitive blood pressure, overconsumption may cause health problems. However, underconsumption may lead to sodium deficiency or hyponatremia. This condition can be fatal.
For many years, high dietary sodium has been implicated as a cause of hypertension (high blood pressure) and organ damage; yet careful analysis has revealed a weak relationship between sodium intake/excretion and blood pressure in the general population. Studies investigating the effects of dietary sodium reduction on blood pressure have shown only a minimal decrease in blood pressure and no effect on death or cardiovascular health. Although some people do experience large blood pressure changes in response to salt intake, these people are salt sensitive. These individuals experience an increase in blood pressure and body weight when switched from a low-sodium diet to a high-sodium diet. Salt sensitivity is influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, race/ethnicity, age, body mass, and diet, as well as some diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and kidney dysfunction. – Jamie Hale 1
Take Home Points
So, to summarize author Hale’s findings concerning salt (sodium chloride) intake and blood pressure, there is no need for a healthy person to restrict salt intake to prevent high blood pressure and there is little evidence to support the once widely held belief that excess salt intake causes high blood pressure. So, go ahead and put some salt on your tomato sandwich. And, I recommend a generous grind of pepper, as well. And mayonnaise on both slices of bread. Do you need a recipe for a tomato sandwich?
For those who are already diagnosed with high blood pressure, only a portion will experience an increase in blood pressure as a result of salt intake. And, surprisingly, a few can experience a decrease in blood pressure as a result of salt intake. How dietary factors influence your blood pressure needs to be worked about between you and your doctor!
If you must restrict sodium in your diet to control your high blood pressure, you may be wondering whether it is possible to still have your food taste good.
Are Salt Substitutes OK if I am On a Low Salt Diet?
A low-salt diet really means a low-sodium diet. What we commonly call salt is sodium chloride (NaC). However, salt, in chemistry and food science, can refer to a class of compound, not all of which contain sodium or chloride. Salts are, instead, any compounds that result from a neutralization reaction between an acid and a base. They contain anions, which are positively charged, and cations, which are negatively charged. In sodium chloride, or table salt, the anion is sodium and the cation is chloride. The reaction between these two elements forms a neutrally charged compound.
There are many other salts used in food science, to serve various purposes (not all salts are used for taste). For instance, calcium carbonate is a salt that might be added to flour to increase its calcium content. You may know calcium carbonate as chalk. Another familiar salt, and the cause of its own health concerns is potassium nitrate, which is added to meats, especially cured products, as a preservative. In the past, this salt was known as saltpeter or saltpetre. See also saltpeter, the military, and male libido.
The salt substitutes you might find in your grocery store are technically still salts. However, instead of containing the salt sodium chloride, they contain potassium chloride (KCl). When you taste potassium chloride, you will certainly find that it tastes “salty.” However, the saltiness is a bit different than sodium chloride, and the potassium tends to give a slightly metallic or bitter taste. Other ingredients might be added to salt substitutes to masks this taste, such as L-lysine, monocalcium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate, citric acid, and glutamic acid. This salt substitute can be safe to use for hypertensive individuals and may help lower blood pressure in some cases. However, you should always consult your doctor before undertaking any dietary changes. Keep in mind that table salt is usually fortified with iodine, and substitutes do not contain this necessary element.
Can’t I Tell if I Have High Blood Pressure?
People often think that if they had high blood pressure they should feel symptoms related to it such as tiredness, or even a feeling of “pressure” or other bodily sensations associated with the condition. But high blood pressure is called the silent killer for a reason. You cannot tell if you have high blood pressure unless you have your blood pressure checked by a doctor. Much of the time, people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, and symptoms may not occur until serious organ damage, such as kidney damage, has occurred, and perhaps not even then.
Older people often associate high blood pressure with a high stress and high-pressure lifestyle. This is because, in the past, we were often told that anxiety and stress caused the condition. But anyone can get high blood pressure, including calm and happy people. At least 40% of persons with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition, if not more.
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- Hale, Jamie. “Is Sodium Bad for My Health?” Should I Eat the Yolk?: Separating Facts from Myths to Get You Lean, Fit, and Healthy. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses, 2010. 58. Print. (Excerpt used with permission from author).