A low-sodium diet is typically recommended for individuals that have high blood pressure or hypertension as well as other medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure (CHF). A low-sodium diet provides only 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, which is the equivalent of approximately 1 teaspoon of sodium. This diet restricts many processed and canned foods and emphasizes fresh foods, which are usually low in sodium.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), hypertension affects approximately 25 percent of American adults. Some risk factors for hypertension include family history, race (it is most common in African Americans), stress, obesity, a diet high in saturated fats or sodium, tobacco use, a lack of exercise and aging. Hypertension is defined as having a systolic blood pressure reading of 140 to 159 mm Hg, or a diastolic blood pressure reading of 90 to 99 mm Hg.
If hypertension is left untreated, it carries a high mortality rate. According to Harvard Medical School, only one-third of those with hypertension in the United States are controlling their hypertension. According to a study published by the British Medical Journal, high salt intake is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke and total heart disease. Thus, a reduction in salt intake may prevent cardiovascular disease.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends lifestyle modifications that includes, among other things, a low-sodium diet. On such a diet, sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg (or 1 teaspoon). A low-sodium diet should offer a wide variety of fresh foods, such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes (rinse if canned), low-sodium whole grains, unsalted lean protein foods and a moderate amount of low- or non-fat dairy products (which naturally offer sodium). Snack, canned and processed foods should be avoided. Meals should not exceed 500 to 600 mg of sodium, and snacks, 200 to 300 mg. Herbs, spices and sodium-free seasonings may be used in place of salt.
In our culture, most individuals choose the foods they eat based on flavor. Salt enhances flavor and is used liberally in processed foods as well as in restaurants. Some foods you may not expect to be salty are high in sodium, such as cheese. In addition, with free time at a premium for many households, it is not uncommon to look for quick meal solutions, such as canned soups (for use in casseroles or on meats), packaged foods, such as rice mixes and pasta dishes, and frozen foods with sauces. These dishes contain high amounts of sodium. More often it takes careful selection of foods and more preparation time to eat a low-sodium diet.
There are many benefits to consuming a low-sodium diet. Overall, it is a healthier way of eating. Unprocessed whole foods are nutrient-rich, offer dietary fiber and contain fewer preservatives. As you choose fewer packaged and processed foods and select more foods in their natural, whole form (limiting sauces and dressings), you will consume fewer calories, which can help you keep your weight at a healthy level. A meal plan that emphasizes fresh plant foods, lean proteins and low-sodium, fiber-rich grains is a better option for blood pressure, as well as other conditions, such as obesity.
- Scientific American; Incidence of Hypertension; Feb. 2009
- British Medical Journal; Salt Intake, Stroke, and Cardiovascular Disease: Meta-analysis of Prospective Studies; P. Strazzullo, L.D. Elia, N.B. Kandala, and F.P. Cappuccio; Nov. 2009
- Heart Failure Society of America: How to Follow a Low-Sodium Diet