Salt and Hypertension

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a widespread health issue that affects a significant portion of the population. Despite its prevalence, hypertension often remains undiagnosed due to its largely asymptomatic nature. Only a fraction of those living with hypertension manage to keep their blood pressure within healthy limits, largely due to the difficulty in adhering to dietary therapy.

The Basics of Hypertension

Hypertension is a complex condition that is typically characterized by blood pressure levels consistently higher than normal. Specifically, a reading of 90 mmHg for diastolic pressure or 140 mmHg for systolic pressure is often indicative of hypertension.

The condition can be further classified into two types:

  1. Primary (or essential) hypertension: This type accounts for the majority of hypertension cases and is characterized by elevated blood pressure with no identifiable cause. The development of primary hypertension is believed to be a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle choices such as diet, physical activity, and body weight.
  2. Secondary hypertension: This type is less common and occurs as a result of an identifiable underlying health condition that affects the arteries, heart, kidneys, or endocrine system. Conditions that can lead to secondary hypertension include kidney disease, adrenal gland tumors, certain congenital heart defects, and the use of certain medications or illicit drugs.

While advancing age can worsen hypertension, the condition can potentially be managed through specific dietary measures, increased physical activity, weight reduction, and, if necessary, pharmacological therapy.

The Role of Sodium in Foods

Sodium intake can be categorized into two groups:

  1. Discretionary sodium: Refers to the salt added during cooking or at the table.
  2. Non-discretionary sodium: It's present in food before it is processed or consumed.

However, it may be more practical to think of sodium as either naturally present or added. Regardless of who adds the sodium or why, it is crucial to remember that excessive sodium intake can contribute to hypertension. Thus, it is recommended to avoid both foods that are purchased already salted and the addition of table salt at home.

Interestingly, sodium naturally present in foods only accounts for about 10% of overall intake. The majority of the sodium intake comes from personal additions at the table and consumption of processed or pre-prepared foods. These foods, which include sausages, cheeses, and canned goods, not only contain a lot of table salt but also other flavor enhancers such as sodium glutamate or sodium bicarbonate.

The Influence of Dietary Habits

To effectively prevent the onset of hypertension, a critical recommendation is the substantial reduction in the use of discretionary salt and the consumption of processed foods rich in sodium.

However, the challenge with low-sodium dietary regimens often lies in the perceived compromise on flavor, leading many to find their meals less palatable. This dissatisfaction can undermine the adherence to healthier eating practices, pushing individuals towards pharmacological interventions. The shift towards medication as a primary management strategy contributes to increased healthcare costs.

The responsibility for maintaining health through diet does not solely rest on individuals; public institutions have a role in creating environments conducive to healthy eating. A significant concern is the early development of a preference for high-salt and high-sugar foods among children and adolescents. This trend is largely facilitated by the widespread availability of unhealthy snack options in educational and recreational settings.

Educational campaigns, improved food policies in schools, and greater availability of nutritious options can play a significant role in reshaping dietary preferences. By increasing the appeal of low-sodium foods and making them readily accessible, it is possible to cultivate a preference for healthier habits among the youth.


Preventing the habit of salty eating is a crucial step in combating the onset of hypertension. While individual responsibility is key, public institutions also have a role in promoting healthier dietary habits. By understanding the role of sodium and making conscious dietary choices, it is possible to manage hypertension effectively and lead a healthier life.

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