Serena Caner, registered dietician

Column: Cut salt to help with hypertension

Sometimes it feels like Health Canada wants to ensure that everybody has a chronic disease.

Not only can you have prediabetes, but also prehypertension. Prehypertension is a blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 mmHg. The hope is that by giving it a fancy name, you will be motivated to do something about it.

Hypertension is responsible for up to 50 per cent of deaths due to heart disease and stroke and is the leading cause of kidney disease. In 2014, Canadians spent $2 billion on blood pressure medications. But there may be another way.

Our high-salt diets are thought to cause about a third of all hypertension. Other risk factors include obesity, low potassium intake (low fruit and vegetable intake), lack of exercise and excessive alcohol intake.

A low-sodium diet is more than not adding salt to your food during cooking or at the table. It is in almost every single packaged and processed food. The average Canadian consumes 3,400 mg of sodium, more than double the recommended 1,500 mg/day.

The most you can consume without causing harm to your body is about 2,300 mg/day. To understand how easy it is to exceed the guidelines, here are some examples:

Tim Hortons’ chili and bun = 1,600 mg of sodium (if you drink a hot chocolate, add another 320 mg)

A 6” Subway Melt = 1,100 mg sodium

McDonlad’s Crispy Chicken Caesar Salad = 1,070 mg sodium

Unfortunately, if you want to meet sodium guidelines, you cannot eat out regularly.

An ideal sodium diet means cooking instead of reheating packaged and processed foods. It means eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and going easy on added sauces and dressings. Essentially, it means that your diet is not very “fun.”

Nutrition labels are a great way to evaluate the salt content of foods. A good rule of thumb is that if the Percentage Daily Value is less than five per cent, it is considered “low” in sodium, but if it is above 15 per cent, it is “high” sodium, and should be eaten in smaller quantities or less often.

Luckily for us, taste buds are adaptable, and once you are used to a low sodium diet, salty foods will not taste good.

-Serena Cener is a registered dietitian who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.

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