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You Ask, I Answer: Immune to Hypertension?

salt-shaker-01My diet is extremely high in sodium.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

I would say I get anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, [well past the recommended daily maximum of 2,400 milligrams].  I’ve been eating this way for years.

Whenever I get a physical, my blood pressure does not fall into the “high” range.

Is there any reason why I should try to cut back on sodium?

– Richard (last name withheld)
Norwalk, CT

You belong to the “not sodium sensitive” category.

Roughly half of all adults in the United State do not develop hypertension (high blood pressure) as a result of excess sodium consumption.

So, then, why all the concern about sodium?

Simple — hypertension is simply one of many health consequences of long-term high sodium intakes.

Various recent clinical studies are making it clear that consistently high levels of dietary sodium increase heart disease risk and negatively affect renal (kidney) function.

Foods (and diets) high in sodium are usually low in potassium, a mineral that plays a major role in proper muscle contraction.  Remember — the heart is a muscle!  It is not surprising, then, that insufficient potassium intakes have a negative effect on cardiac health.

in 2004, official potassium guidelines were finally released, recommending a daily goal of 4,700 milligrams.

FYI: this figure is simply a reflection of sodium guidelines, which call for no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium.  See, the key is to aim for a 2:1 potassium-sodium ratio.  Therefore, a diet that adds up to 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day needs to be offset by approximately 7,000 milligrams of potassium a day (that’s a lot!).

That is why general nutrition advice is to eat as minimally processed a diet is possible.  The more processed a food, the more sodium — and less potassium — it offers.

Since high-sodium diets are usually heavy on processed foods, they tend to also be lacking in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and other minerals.

The fact that your blood pressure isn’t too affected by your high sodium intake does not mean you are scot-free.


One Comment

  1. Kate said on November 28th, 2009

    I see. I had heard that many anorexics have heart problems and even have heart attacks because of low potassium levels, but I was unsure of why that was.

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