May is High Blood Pressure Education Month
Nearly 1 in 3 adults is living with this “silent killer.” Cut back on sodium to lower your risk.
*Includes people who are aged 51 years or older, African American, or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
In the United States today, about 68 million people are living with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The good news is that high blood pressure can be prevented and controlled. The bad news is less than half of the population with high blood pressure actually has it under control.
High blood pressure is an important health concern because it leads to heart attack and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. In 2008 alone, hypertension was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 347,000 Americans. High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for other diseases such as congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is sometimes called a “silent killer” because it often does not have any signs or symptoms. Apart from those with known high blood pressure, about 8% of US adults have hypertension, but have never been diagnosed. That’s why it’s important to check your blood pressure regularly, and to take steps to maintain normal blood pressure or lower blood pressure if it reaches unsafe levels.
Why Does Sodium Matter?
Eating too much sodium raises the risk for developing high blood pressure. In the United States, about 90% of Americans aged 2 and older eat too much sodium. On average, Americans eat 3,300 mg of sodium per day, which is more than twice the recommended limit for most adults.
Fortunately, when sodium intake is reduced, blood pressure, on average, begins to decrease. These benefits apply to everyone, not just people with hypertension. According to a recent estimate, reducing Americans’ average sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day could prevent 11 million cases of high blood pressure every year, and reducing sodium intake further would lead to even greater health benefits.
Sodium: How You Can Cut Back
Most of the sodium we consume is already in the food when we buy it, mainly in processed, packaged, and restaurant foods. Only a small percentage of the sodium we eat is added from the salt shaker during cooking or at the table. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs, most of the sodium Americans eat comes from 10 types of food. Foods such as bread, cold cuts, pizza and poultry top the list.
There are a few simple steps you can take to control how much sodium you eat each day:
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, or frozen fruits and vegetables with no sauce or salt added.
- Read nutrition labels and choose lower sodium options.
- Cook meals at home from scratch, and use herbs and spices, rather than salt or packaged sauces, to season your foods.
- Ask restaurants for low sodium options or not to add salt to your food.
To learn more about reducing sodium in your diet, visit www.cdc.gov/salt.
Keeping Your Blood Pressure in Check
In addition to reducing sodium, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range:
- Have your blood pressure checked and then monitor it regularly.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t smoke.
- Watch your alcohol intake (fewer than two drinks per day for men, or one drink per day for women).
- If you have been prescribed blood pressure medication, take it as directed.
- If you have trouble with side effects, talk to your healthcare professional about other medications you can try.