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The benefits of a low sodium diet for hypertension

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Benefits of low sodiumHow much to haveThe DASH dietDrawbacksMedicationsOther treatmentsSummary
Some evidence suggests that a low sodium diet can be helpful for high blood pressure, or hypertension. You can lower your sodium intake by adding less salt to food and eating less processed foods.
Medically reviewed by William C Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written by Uxshely Carcamo
Updated on

Hypertension happens when the pressure in your blood vessels is higher than it should be

Standard blood pressure was defined by the American College of Cardiology in 2017 as being 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or lower. The top number of the ratio is referred to as systolic blood pressure and the bottom number is referred to as diastolic blood pressure. You may also hear it referred to as “120 over 80.”

Hypertension is when systolic blood pressure ranges from 130–139 mmHg or higher and diastolic blood pressure ranges from 80–89 mmHg or higher. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide 1.28 billion adults between the ages of 30 and 79 have hypertension. But 46% of adults with high blood pressure don’t know that they have the condition. 

Research from 2019 suggests that a high salt intake is linked with high blood pressure. Table salt is made from two elements: sodium and chloride. It is the sodium in salt that can affect blood pressure. 

The National Institute on Aging and the WHO recommend that people with high blood pressure cut down on salt intake. 

The American Heart Association highlights that some people are more sensitive to sodium than others. For these people, eating too much salt is especially likely to cause high blood pressure. 

Benefits of a low sodium diet in hypertension 

A person shown from the neck down sitting on a couch eating a salad, an example of a low sodium diet for hypertension.
Alba Vitta/Stocksy United

Following a low sodium diet has several benefits if you have high blood pressure. These benefits can include: 

  • Managing and lowering your blood pressure: The 2019 research mentioned earlier clearly linked high salt intake to high blood pressure and water retention (when your body holds on to extra water). By eating less salt, you can reduce water retention and lower your blood pressure.
  • Reduced risk of complications: By reducing your salt intake, you can also reduce your risk of developing other health conditions connected to high blood pressure. It could help prevent complications such as heart attack, stroke, or chronic kidney disease. 
  • Improved general health: Eating less processed foods containing lots of added salt may instead mean eating more nutritious whole foods. This can be good for overall health and well-being. 

How much sodium should you have? 

The WHO suggests that most people should aim to eat fewer than 5 grams of salt per day. If you have high blood pressure, it may be helpful to have fewer than 3 grams of salt each day, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is estimated that most people have around 9–12 grams of salt daily. 

To reduce salt intake, you can reduce the amount of salt you add to food and eat less processed foods. The NIH suggests that only 10% of the sodium consumed in America comes from salt added to food.

A lot of the sodium in your diet is likely to come from processed food in stores and restaurants. According to the NIH, around 15–20% of sodium in an American’s diet often comes from grain-based products like chips, crackers, breads, and cereals. 

The DASH diet  

As well as limiting your salt intake, making other changes to your diet can help you manage hypertension.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an eating plan that is recommended to manage and prevent high blood pressure.

The DASH diet involves: 

  • eating vegetables, whole grains, and fruits 
  • adding legumes, nuts, low fat dairy products, fish, and poultry to your diet 
  • limiting foods high in saturated fat such as full fat dairy, fatty meats, and tropical oils like palm and coconut oil 
  • limiting sweet foods, salt, and sugar-sweetened drinks. 

Drawbacks of a low sodium diet 

Experts agree that not everyone reacts to sodium in the same way. This means that reducing sodium intake may be good for some people but won’t be as helpful for others.  

Drawbacks of a low sodium diet include: 

1. We all have different salt needs 

There is some research from 2021 suggesting that both low salt intake and high salt intake can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

This conflicting evidence may be because different people react to salt in different ways. For some people, reducing salt can be helpful, but for others, it may not be. 

This research also suggests that too little salt may not be good for overall health. It may also be unhelpful for people who don’t have hypertension to follow a low-salt diet. 

You need to find the right amount of salt for your unique body. You may consider reaching out to a doctor or dietitian, if you have access to one, to determine the appropriate amount of salt for you.

2. Negative effects of too little salt 

You need some salt in your diet. Salt is important for many bodily functions.  

You may experience negative effects from eating too little salt, resulting in hyponatremia — the medical term for unhealthily low levels of serum sodium in your blood. This can lead to symptoms such as headache, nausea, and vomiting.

3. Sticking to it

It can be difficult to stick to a low salt diet in the long term. Added salt is found in many foods you buy from stores and restaurants. It may take careful meal planning to follow a low sodium diet. 

Medication for hypertension

Hypertension medications include:

Other treatments

Other treatments for hypertension can include: 

  • Exercise: Exercise such as swimming or brisk walking can lower blood pressure. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: A person may be more likely to develop hypertension if they are overweight. 
  • Reducing smoking and alcohol: If you smoke or drink alcohol, it can be helpful to quit smoking and to cut down on alcohol. 
  • Prioritizing sleep: Getting enough and good quality sleep is important to manage your blood pressure. 
  • Managing stress: Lowering your stress levels and using stress management techniques like yoga can lower your blood pressure. 

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Evidence suggests that lowering sodium intake is helpful if you have hypertension. If you usually have a high salt diet and high blood pressure, lowering the amount of salt you eat can help lower your blood pressure.

You can lower your salt intake by adding less salt to foods and eating less processed foods like chips, ready meals, and cereals. 

But each person reacts to salt differently. For people without hypertension, a very low salt diet may be unhelpful. A doctor or dietitian, if you have access to one, can help you to decide what daily amount of salt is right for you.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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