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Time to shake the salt habit

Your body is all about balance. When something goes wrong and the balance tips, the impact on your health can be very serious. High blood pressure is one of them.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the number one risk factor for premature death. It’s one of the most significant contributors to both heart disease and stroke, and raises your risk of developing eye problems and kidney disease.

It often goes undetected because it rarely causes symptoms, so it’s important that you keep your eye on it and do something about it if it does start to creep up. The best thing you can do alongside regularly getting your blood pressure checked is to look after yourself. And, in particular, some simple changes to your diet could have a huge benefit. Let’s focus on salt.

Details

  • Cut the salt Cut the salt

    One way that you can start right now is to cut down on how much salt you eat.

    Salt and high blood pressure actually have a lot in common. Just as high blood pressure remains hidden in many people, rarely causing any symptoms, salt is often hidden in the foods we eat. This makes it very easy to consume far more than you actually need.

    In many countries across the globe, public health recommendations are to reduce salt intake from around 9 to 12g/day to 5 to 6g/day. And that’s not just the extra salt added from the salt shaker. It includes all the salt that’s already in the foods we eat.

    So where is it found? It’s surprising where a lot of salt comes from in our diet – even bread, which for many of us is a staple part of our everyday food. About three-quarters of the salt we eat comes from everyday foods like this. It's even found in some breakfast cereals – foods that you might not think contained any salt at all. Salt is also found in a lot of other processed and prepared foods such as soy sauce, stock cubes, tinned and packet soup, and cured meats to name a few. So the key thing to remember here is that 6g doesn’t just mean 6g of ‘added salt’.

  • The evidence The evidence

    There’s a large body of evidence to show that reducing your salt intake can lower your blood pressure.

    For example, a meta-analysis (a review of several studies) of 34 trials showed that a reduction in salt intake for four or more weeks led to a significant fall in blood pressure. This was shown in people with high blood pressure, as well as those with normal blood pressure, irrespective of sex or ethnic group. Furthermore, the analysis showed a dose-response relationship – this means the greater the reduction in salt intake, the greater the fall in blood pressure.

    The authors of the research concluded that even a modest reduction in salt intake has a significant effect on blood pressure. Although current recommendations are to reduce salt intake to no more than 6g/day, it’s not rocket science to know that a greater reduction would have even greater effects.

  • Take action Take action

    Detecting high blood pressure is the first step to preventing and controlling it. Keep on top of your health by making sure you and those around you get your blood pressure checked regularly; it’s a good idea to get checked every five years. If you’re at an increased risk or your blood pressure is on the higher end of what’s normal, get checked more often – about once a year. Knowing your blood pressure level will allow you to take the right steps to control it and reduce your risk of heart disease and other conditions.

    And don’t forget the things you can do for yourself day-to-day. Lifestyle changes including a healthy diet, regular exercise and stopping smoking if you do smoke, will all help too.

    Remember, every single millimetre your blood pressure comes down is a benefit to you and your future health.

  • Worried about high blood pressure?

    Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with a Bupa health assessment. Find out more today.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Guideline: sodium intake for adults and children. World Health Organization, 2012. www.who.int
    • Raised blood pressure: situation and trends. World Health Organization. www.who.int, accessed 5 March 2014
    • Hypertension. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed 17 December 2013
    • Cardiovascular disease. Oxford handbook of nutrition and dietetics (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published January 2012
    • Salt tips and myths. Food Standards Agency. www.eatwellscotland.org, accessed 4 March 2014
    • Salt and health. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 2003. www.sacn.gov.uk
    • He F, Li J, MacGregor G. Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ, 2013; 346(f1325). doi:10.1136/bmj.f132
    • Hypertension: clinical management of primary hypertension in adults. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), August 2011. www.nice.org.uk
    • How often should I get my blood pressure checked? Blood Pressure UK. www.bloodpressureuk.org, accessed 6 March 2014
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    Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information team, March 2014.

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