Diet and Hypertension

Sodium intake has been a primary target for hypertension control, though it is ranked fourth as the lifestyle factor associated with hypertension. About 50 percent of individuals appear to be "sodium sensitive." This means that excessive sodium intake tends to increase blood pressure in these groups of people, and they do not appear to excrete excessive amount of salt via the kidneys. Sodium-sensitive individuals include the elderly, obese individuals, and African Americans. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily. There are a number of ways to limit sodium in the diet, including:

  • Do not use salt at the table
  • Check food labels for sodium content
  • Choose unprocessed foods
  • Limit processed meats and cheeses
  • Limit pickled meats and vegetables
  • Limit salty snacks
  • Limit intake of soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and other condiments and foods that may be high in sodium

Potassium supplements (2-4 grams daily) have been shown to moderately decrease blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of potassium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume at least 3,500 milligrams of potassium daily. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a decreased risk of both hypertension and stroke. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have positive effects on hypertension and cardiovascular disease by relaxing arteries and thinning the blood. In addition, several studies have demonstrated that individuals with hypertension may benefit from daily doses of calcium (800 mg) or magnesium (300 mg).

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