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Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure

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How Can I Reduce My Intake of Salt?

Americans eat more salt and other forms of sodium than they need. Often, when people with high blood pressure cut back on salt, their blood pressure falls. Cutting back on salt also prevents blood pressure from rising. Some people, like African-Americans and the elderly, are more affected by sodium than others. Since there's really no practical way to predict exactly who will be affected by sodium, it makes sense for everyone to limit intake of salt to help prevent high blood pressure.

All Americans, especially people with high blood pressure, should eat no more than about 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily. That's about 1 teaspoon of table salt. But remember to keep track of ALL salt eaten -- including that in processed foods and salt added during cooking or at the table.

You can teach your taste buds to enjoy less salty foods. Here are a few tips:

  • Check food labels for the amount of salt in foods. Choose those lower in sodium most of the time. Look for products that say "sodium free," "very low sodium," "low sodium," "light in sodium," "reduced or less sodium" or "unsalted," especially on cans, boxes, bottles, and bags.
  • Buy foods that are fresh, plain frozen, or canned with "no salt added." Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking instead of salt.
  • Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, because they usually have added salt.
  • Rinse canned foods like tuna to remove some sodium.

A research study called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) showed that you can reduce your blood pressure by eating foods rich in grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

How Much Alcohol Can I Drink if I Have High Blood Pressure?

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It may also lead to the development of high blood pressure. So to help prevent high blood pressure, if you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink to no more than two drinks a day if you are male. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommend that for overall health, women and lighter weight persons should limit their alcohol to no more than one drink a day.

This is what counts as a drink:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof or 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer (regular or light)

You may have heard that some alcohol is good for your heart. Some studies suggest that people who consume a drink or two a day have lower blood pressure and live longer than those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol or no alcohol at all. Others note that wine raises the "good" (HDL) blood cholesterol that prevents the build-up of fats in the arteries.

While these studies may be correct, they don't tell the whole story. Too much alcohol contributes to a host of other health problems, such as motor vehicle accidents, diseases of the liver and pancreas, damage to the brain and heart, an increased risk of many cancers, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol is also high in calories. So you should limit how much you drink.

WebMD Medical Reference

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