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New research finds that reducing the amount of salt you eat can help lower your blood pressure, even if you already take medication it. People Images/Getty Images
  • A study has found that reducing salt intake by 1 teaspoon can lower blood pressure.
  • The drop seen was similar to that obtained by taking a common medication.
  • Eating less salt can lower blood pressure even if you are already taking medication.
  • Steps like reading labels and cooking at home can go a long way in cutting out salt.

If you have high blood pressure, you’re likely already aware of the importance of bringing it down to a normal value somewhere between 90/60 mm Hg and 120/80 mm Hg.

Blood pressure that remains elevated for too long can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, vision loss, and sexual dysfunction.

You’ve probably also been advised to make certain lifestyle changes including eating less salt.

If you are already taking a blood pressure medication, you may be wondering just how much cutting down on salt will help. Is it really worth it to reduce your salt intake on top of taking medications?

According to a new study published online in JAMA, the answer to this question is “yes.” The authors of the study say that reducing your salt intake by 1 teaspoon each day can reduce your blood pressure even further.

In fact, this one simple step can provide the same effect as a common blood pressure medication called hydrochlorothiazide.

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers randomly placed middle-aged to older adults from Birmingham, Alabama, and Chicago into groups who were to eat either a high-sodium or low-sodium diet.

People who ate the high-sodium diet added 2,200 milligrams per day to their usual intake.

Those who ate a low-sodium diet consumed only 500 milligrams per day.

At the end of a week of eating this way, each group crossed over into the other group for an additional week.

A day prior to each study visit, people wore blood pressure monitors to check their blood pressure. They also collected their urine for 24 hours in order to assess their sodium intake.

The research team found that systolic blood pressure (the top number of the blood pressure reading) was reduced by 7 mm Hg to 8 mm Hg in the group who ate a low-sodium diet versus a high-sodium one.

Additionally, their blood pressure was 6 mm Hg less than what it was when they ate their usual diet.

The authors report that the blood pressure-lowering effect with quite consistent, with 72% of people in the study experiencing a reduction in their blood pressure when they ate less salt.

Furthermore, the intervention worked rapidly with people seeing a change within only one week.

Dr. Bradley Serwer, an Interventional Cardiologist and Chief Medical Officer at VitalSolution, who was not involved in the recent study, said, “For the general population, it is recommended to have a sodium intake of under 2,300 mg per day.

“For those with high blood pressure or heart disease, we recommend less than 1,500 mg per day,” he added.

According to Serwer, a low-sodium diet is always the first step in reducing high blood pressure.

“If someone is unable to achieve a normal blood pressure with a low sodium diet, then we start medications,” he explained.

Avery Zenker, a Registered Dietitian, added that a teaspoon of salt is about 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

“That’s equivalent to the daily upper limit, over 50% more than what’s recommended per day,” she noted.

“However, on average, Americans consume 3,400 mg of sodium per day,” said Zenker, noting that, if this is the average, this means that many people consume even more.

“Reducing sodium intake by 2,300 mg per day, equivalent to one teaspoon of salt, can help bring daily sodium intake down closer to the recommended levels of 1,200-1,500 mg,” she explained.

However, Zenker added that it’s not necessarily better to go even lower than that.

“Remember, some sodium in our diet is still essential, so we don’t want to aim for an intake of zero,” she cautioned. “Sodium needs can vary between individuals, depending on factors such as physical activity levels.”

Serwer and Zenker had several tips to share that can help you reduce your salt intake and bring your blood pressure down.

Read labels

Both of our experts listed this as their number one tip.

“Canned vegetables are notoriously high in sodium,” said Serwer, explaining it’s often used as a preservative. Zenker further advised keeping an eye on foods that you might not think would be high in sodium, like desserts. “From beverages and snacks to breads and condiments, you’d be surprised how much sodium can be found in some foods,” she added.

Find alternatives you enjoy

“You can opt for low-sodium versions of foods, or different food alternatives,” advised Zenker. “For example, you can opt for low-sodium soy sauce, soups, pasta sauce, and more.”

Use spices and herbs liberally

“Herbs and spices are packed with flavor and also offer a variety of beneficial phytonutrients, like antioxidants,” noted Zenker. “They can be used to make meals tasty as a replacement for salt, or even to allow sodium reduction.”

Add vinegar

“Vinegar is a flavorful ingredient that adds acidity to meals,” Zenker stated. “Its tangy taste can be a replacement for salt.”

Focus on whole foods

“Most sodium tends to come from packaged, processed, and ultra-processed foods,” said Zenker. Choosing whole foods will naturally help limit your sodium intake.

Cook at home more often

“Pre-prepared, highly processed meals, fast food, and even fine dining restaurants are often very high in sodium,” explained Serwer. He recommends eating at home since this allows you to have control over the ingredients used in your meals.

Check nutritional information when eating out

“Some meals can have more than 2,300 mg, which is the daily maximum recommended amount,” said Zenker.

Start one step at a time

If cutting out this much sodium all at once seems overwhelming, Zenker says you can also start small and focus on the biggest contributors to your sodium intake.

“That might look like reducing intake of ramen noodles, for example,” she said.

Focus on adding rather than subtracting

Finally, Zenker suggested concentrating on adding more low-sodium foods rather than subtracting those with high sodium levels. As you eat more foods with lower sodium they will gradually crowd out the higher-sodium foods.

A new study has found that reducing your salt intake by 1 teaspoon each day can reduce your blood pressure.

People who made this change in their diet experienced a drop in blood pressure equivalent to what could be obtained with a common blood pressure medication.

Most people consume more sodium than what’s advised so losing a teaspoon of salt each day can bring them back within the recommended range.

Simple steps like reading labels, cooking more at home, and eating whole foods can help cut out excess salt.