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Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride and it’s the sodium in salt that can raise your blood pressure. Australians currently eat around 10 grams of salt a day – our body needs less than 1 gram to survive. To reduce the risk of heart disease it is recommended to eat no more than 4g salt a day (1600mg sodium). That equals about 1 teaspoon a day.1
When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, which increases the total amount of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. To cope with the extra strain, the tiny muscles in the artery walls become thicker – this only makes the space inside the arteries smaller and raises your blood pressure even higher. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of fatty plaque that can block blood flow which raises the risk of a heart attack and stroke. The added pressure tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain.2
High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as the ‘silent killer’ because its symptoms are not always obvious. It refers to when the higher figure (systolic) is above 140mmHg, or the lower figure (diastolic) is higher than 90mmHg, or both. It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease and the number one killer worldwide. In 2018, just over one in five Australians had a measured high blood pressure reading (140/90 mmHg).3 One way to cut back is to skip the table salt. However, about 80% of the sodium in our diets comes from packaged, processed foods. Because our diets are generally so high in salt, everybody – even those with normal blood pressure – can benefit from reducing salt intake. Lowering your salt intake will not only have a positive effect on your heart but it can also reduce your risk of stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches.
With less salt, you can taste your food’s natural flavour, especially when you use cooking techniques and flavourful ingredients to enhance it. Over time, your taste buds can adjust to liking less salt. Studies show that when people follow a lower-sodium diet, they start to prefer it, and that the foods they used to enjoy taste too salty. Below are some useful tips for reducing salt in your diet.4