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New study says less salt can lower blood pressure and your chance of stroke and heart disease

Dr. Williams suggests eating more vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy foods and limiting hot foods high in saturated fat or fried foods high in salt content.
Dr. Williams suggests eating more vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy foods and limiting hot foods high in saturated fat or fried foods high in salt content.

High blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart disease – both are leading causes of death in Texas.

But a new study suggests cutting 1 teaspoon of salt from your diet each day can lower your top blood pressure reading as much as hypertension medication.

A teaspoon may not sound like much, but cardiologist Dr. Brandie Williams of Texas Health Stephenville told KERA’s Sam Baker less salt can make a difference.

During this study, they took about 200 people, ages 50 to 75, and they altered their diet, either a high-salt diet or a low-salt diet.

During the high salt week, people ate a normal diet along with two bullion packets, which contained about 1,000mg of sodium each. And during that low-salt week, people ate foods with low sodium. And they compared the two.

Those who ate the low sodium and the reduced salt diet had a drop of about six millimeters of mercury in their blood pressure. And that's whether they were on medicines or not on medications at that time.

So the less amount of salt you eat, the better off you are.

I tell my patients everything in moderation and salt is no different. American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams of salt or less a day.

And salt is not only just the salt shaker. So when I asked my patients in the office, Do you eat salt? The answer is usually no. And then we go over their diet and find out they actually do eat a lot of salt.

It's in a lot of things that we eat already. 

Even breads have a lot of salt. I tell my patients and I say this probably ten times a day, but peanuts, popcorn, chips - and one food I love - Mexican food. I give them an example: Mexican food has enough salt in one meal for three days as the salt requirement.

So now when you decide you want that Mexican food, do you plan salt intake? 

Exactly. That's what I tell my patients to do.

If I know I'm going to go eat Mexican food with friends tonight. Then for breakfast, I try to have low salt. For lunch, I try not to have sandwich meat that has a lot of salt or a soup that has a lot of salt. So, you try to plan around it.

Monitoring blood pressure, keeping an eye on the blood pressure. Know it's the patient's responsibility to watch those numbers and help us physicians help them because blood pressure is kind of a silent killer. People don't even realize it's elevated, but it's just doing damage over time.

What else should we be doing? 

Paying attention to the nutrition label on the back. We'll see sodium as a content. You don't want to just look at the front of the box and it says low sodium, low salt. You want to look at the back and see how much each serving has of salt.

You know, the American Heart Association pushes to go with the dash diet, and that's Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension or high blood pressure. And so we want to eat more veggies, fruits, low-fat dairy foods and limit hot foods that are high in saturated fat or fried foods because those have a ton of salt in them.

Always fixing your food at home is better than eating out. And you want to look for those canned vegetables that usually have more salt in them than fresh. So you try to stick with the fresh aisle, fresh veggies, fresh vegetables, and things like that.

Is the goal to have no salt at all or just not to overindulge on it? 

So salt is still very important in the diet. We don't want to go “no salt”. Salt does help with our cells, just like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These are all important electrolytes that the body uses to help maintain its function.

And so salt is still very important. Sometimes patients find out that they have low sodium in their labs or low salt in their labs. They need to talk to their primary care physician or their cardiologist about that because sometimes the answer is not just to eat a whole bunch more salt. And so they need to have that discussion with their physician and go over how much salt they should have in their diet. And their doctor can help them determine that.


Cutting 1 teaspoon of salt works as well as blood pressure meds, study finds
Salt & Sodium: The Nutrition Source
CDC: Sodium Intake and Health

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.