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Blood Pressure & Diet

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels) which carry the blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means the pressure in your arteries is above the normal range. In most cases, no one knows what causes high blood pressure. What you eat can affect your blood pressure.

How does nutrition affect blood pressure?
  • Certain foods can increase blood pressure.
  • Gaining weight can increase blood pressure.
  • Losing weight can reduce blood pressure.
What should I eat to control high blood pressure?
  • Eat foods lower in fat, salt, and calories.
  • Use spices and herbs instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Use less oil, butter, margarine, shortening, and salad dressings.
What are some of the foods I should eat?
  • Skim or 1% milk
  • Lean meat
  • Skinless turkey and chicken
  • Low-salt, ready-to-eat cereals
  • Cooked hot cereal (not instant)
  • Low-fat and low-salt cheeses
  • Fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt)
  • Vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned, no added salt)
  • Plain rice, pasta, and potatoes
  • Breads (English muffins, bagels, rolls, and tortillas)
  • Lower salt "prepared" convenience food
What foods should I eat less of?
  • Butter and margarine
  • Regular salad dressings
  • Fatty meats
  • Whole milk dairy products
  • Fried foods
  • Salted snacks
  • Canned soups
  • Fast foods
  • Deli meats
What’s the difference between sodium and salt?

Salt is mostly sodium, a mineral that occurs naturally in foods. Sodium is the substance that may cause your blood pressure to increase. Other forms of sodium are also present in food. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another example of a sodium added to food (common in Chinese food).

How does salt increase blood pressure?

When you eat too much salt, which contains sodium, your body holds extra water to “wash” the salt from your body. In some people, this may cause blood pressure to rise. The added water puts stress on your heart and blood vessels.

How much sodium is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake no more than 1,500 milligrams. (A teaspoon of salt has about 2,400 milligrams of sodium.) Most people greatly exceed these sodium guidelines.

How can I reduce my sodium intake?
  • Don’t use table salt.
  • Read nutrition labels and choose foods lower in sodium.
  • Choose foods marked "sodium-free," "low sodium," and "unsalted."
  • Use salt substitutes (ask your health care provider first).
  • Don’t use lite salt as a substitute.
  • Read content labels (Contents are listed in order of greatest amount.)
  • Purchase sodium-free herbs and seasoning mixes like Mrs. Dash.®
What foods are high in sodium?
  • Processed foods such as lunch meats, sausage, bacon, and ham
  • Canned soups, bouillon, dried soup mixes
  • Deli meats
  • Condiments (catsup, soy sauce, salad dressings)
  • Frozen and boxed mixes for potatoes, rice, and pasta
  • Snack foods (pretzels, popcorn, peanuts, chips)
  • Pickled or marinated food
What else should I do to change my diet?
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Eat foods high in dietary fiber (whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, fresh fruit, and vegetables).
Comparison of Sodium in Foods
Meats, poultry, fish, and shellfish

Food: Milligrams (mg.) sodium
Fresh meat, 3 oz. cooked: Less than 90 mg
Shellfish, 3 oz: 100 to 325 mg
Tuna, canned, 3 oz: 300 mg
Lean ham, 3 oz.: 1,025 mg

Dairy products

Food: Milligrams sodium
*Whole milk, 1 cup: 120 mg
Skim or 1% milk, 1 cup: 125 mg
*Buttermilk (salt added), 1 cup: 260 mg
*Swiss cheese, 1 oz: 75 mg
*Cheddar cheese, 1 oz : 175 mg
Low-fat cheese, 1 oz.: 150 mg
*Cottage cheese (regular), 1/2 cup: 455 mg

Vegetables

Food: Milligrams sodium
Fresh or frozen vegetables, and no-salt-added canned (cooked without salt), 1/2 cup: Less than 70 mg
Vegetables canned or frozen (without sauce), 1/2 cup: 55-470 mg
Tomato juice, canned, 3/4 cup: 660 mg

Breads, cereals, rice and pasta

Food: Milligrams sodium
Bread, 1 slice: 110-175 mg
English muffin (half): 130 mg
Ready-to-eat, shredded wheat, 3/4 cup: Less than 5 mg
Cooked cereal (unsalted), 1/2 cup: Less than 5 mg
Instant cooked cereal, 1 packet: 180 mg
Canned soups, 1 cup: 600-1,300 mg

Convenience foods

Food: Milligrams sodium
Canned and frozen main dishes, 8 oz: 500-1,570 mg

*These can also be high in saturated fat, unless low-fat or reduced fat options are purchased.

*High in saturated fat

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

Reviewed: 12/13

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2015 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.

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