100 Days of Fitness


by Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Sodium & High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases the chance of heart attack and stroke. It’s called the silent killer, because many people don’t experience symptoms with high blood pressure (hypertension). As a result, make sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly. About 1/3 of the US population has hypertension.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recently released new blood pressure guidelines:

  • Normal blood pressure is under 120/80.
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension) is now between 130 and 139 systolic or between 80 and 89 diastolic (the bottom number).
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure is now over 140 systolic or 90 diastolic.

Lifestyle and genetics are two important influences that determine if you have high blood pressure. People are likely to fit into two camps: salt-sensitive or not. If you are salt sensitive, you are likely to develop hypertension on a higher sodium diet. If you are not, you may not have issues with high blood pressure. The good news is that lifestyle changes can positively affect blood pressure.

Harvard Medical School explains that “simply changing what you eat can bring down systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 points, and each additional healthy habit you adopt can bring it down another four to five points.”[1] Other healthy habits include exercise, adequate sleep, and meditation.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating less than 2,300 mg of sodium as a part of a healthy diet (1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium). Americans get 71% of their daily sodium intake from processed and restaurant foods.[2]

Tips for reducing sodium in your diet:

  • Read food labels and choose lower sodium foods and beverages.
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Eat fewer processed foods. Sodium and sugar are added during processing.
  • Don’t add salt. Use herbs, spices, citrus, and vinegar to add flavor to your food.
  • Ease into it. Cut back gradually and your taste buds will adjust over time.

Cutting back on sodium is just part of the solution. High dietary intake of potassium is associated with lower blood pressure. Potassium acts as a counterbalance to sodium in the body. Food sources of potassium are winter squash, potato, sweet potato, banana, halibut, rockfish, and salmon. Increasing magnesium rich foods will also help combat high blood pressure. Nuts, seeds, leafy greens, avocado, and dark chocolate are good sources of magnesium. Eating cold water fish containing the fatty acid DHA three times a week is effective at reducing blood pressure too.

There are several “diet plans” that have been developed to reduce high blood pressure. Read on to learn more.

The DASH and Mediterranean diets were named the best diets in the United States by U.S. News and World ReportThe DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that reduced blood pressure in research studies. DASH is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and low in sodium. A researcher studying Alzheimer’s developed a diet that blends the Mediterranean and DASH diets into the MIND diet. It has shown in studies to be protective against Alzheimer’s. The MIND diet emphasizes: whole grains, salad and vegetables, nuts, beans, fish, berries, and olive oil. It limits red meat, pastries, butter, and cheese and avoids fried and fast foods.

Institute for Functional Medicine’s Cardiometabolic Plan recommends consuming phytonutrients that assist in the reduction of blood pressure: quercetin from onions, sulfur compounds from garlic, beta-glucan from whole oats, isoflavones from soybeans, polyphenols from pomegranate juice and dark chocolate.

The Mayo Clinic suggests 10 Ways to help control high blood pressure without medication.

[1] www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-high-blood-pressure-guidelines-2017111712756

[2] www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm


Questions about any of the above? Need more guidance? Email the expert! Lauren welcomes questions and is always happy to share more tips and tricks with anyone who asks so… ask away!

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, trained chef and owner of Culinary Enlightenment. Lauren’s nutrition background and culinary skills provide a unique blend of resources to help people plan meals, shop, cook, and eat better. For more than a decade, she has been teaching nutrition to children, adults and families through healthy cooking and eating.

Read more about Lauren here. Check her website for more articles & recipes and come to bootcamp and talk to her in person about your nutrition challenges. She has a lot of knowledge and is always ready to share it.