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Baylor College of Medicine News

Too much sodium affects blood pressure, increases risk of stroke

When your blood pressure goes up, your sodium intake must come down, said an expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

"There have been many studies that suggest that too much sodium impacts blood pressure, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke," said Dr. Rebecca Reeves, assistant professor of medicine at BCM.

DASH helps control blood pressure

Studies show that Americans eat an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – that's 1,100 milligrams more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day, said Reeves.

Reeves suggests using the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to help control high blood pressure. The diet emphasizes eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and cutting back on sweets and red meat.

Read food labels

Foods high in salt and thus high in sodium include cured meats, pickled foods, many different snack foods and crackers and various types of seasonings.

How to cut back

"Be sure to look on the nutrition facts panel of foods at the grocery store to see the sodium levels per serving," said Reeves.

It's also important to cut back on salt and replace it with fresh herbs and spices when cooking. Canned vegetables and beans should be washed before cooking to reduce sodium levels, and low sodium products should be used if available. Items such as garlic, onions and bell peppers can be used in the place of salt. Using salt at the dinner table should also be avoided, said Reeves, but salt substitutes are available.

Try dietary changes

"We have to remember that food has a flavor and that we don't need to enhance it with salt," said Reeves.

Start cutting back on salt by not salting food at the table, and then slowly reduce the amount of salt when cooking.

Although medication also helps reduce high blood pressure, the results will be even better with dietary changes. Following a low sodium diet plus taking blood pressure medication daily will help lower and maintain blood pressure.