If you think hypertension, or high blood pressure, is of no concern to you, think again. Nearly one-fourth of all adults − 50 million − have hypertension (2024 UPDATE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says nearly half of all adults − 119.9 million − currently have hypertension. An increase of 140% in the past 20 years!) and another 59 million are considered prehypertensive (at risk of developing high blood pressure). Even more alarming, at the rate we’re going, 9 out of 10 middle-aged Americans face the threat of hypertension later in life, greatly increasing their risk of stroke, heart, and kidney disease.

But there is good news, you can control and possibly prevent high blood pressure. Here’s where to start: maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, follow a healthy eating plan, and reduce sodium consumption. Research shows a low salt diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, may lower blood pressure.

Reduce Sodium Consumption

Sodium is of great concern. We’re eating out more, we have less time to plan meals and rely more on convenience and processed foods which are loaded with salt. The end result, Americans consume 4,000mg – 6,000mg sodium per day −2 to 3 times the recommended level of 1,500mg – 2,200mg.

Although experts have been warning us for years to cut back on salt, most consumers are not listening. The problem is most of us are unaware of how much salt we actually take in. Consequently, we mistakenly think the amount we consume is okay and are oblivious to the harm we’re doing to our bodies.

While sodium is essential to the body by regulating fluids, too much salt can cause fluid build up (or water retention). This puts added pressure on the heart and kidneys to work harder. Over time, this can lead to elevated blood pressure. According to the medical community, most people with high blood pressure should consume less than 1,500mg sodium a day.

Salt hides in a variety of foods, including bread, cheese, snack foods, cereal, soup, frozen dinners, and canned vegetables. The amount of salt you consume can quickly add up. To help keep your sodium intake low, substitute fresh fruits and vegetables for salty snacks. And keep packaged and processed foods to a minimum.

And read the label, if you don’t know how much sodium is in a product, you can’t take control of your diet. Experts advise choosing brands with less than 140mg sodium per serving.

Originally published in May 2004 and updated in 2024 by Bobbie Mostyn