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Herbs can replace salt and sugar in meals.

In 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association redefined the guidelines for high blood pressure. Previous guidelines identified high blood pressure as a reading of 140/90 or higher. The new guidelines now define high blood pressure as a systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 130 or diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 80. This change means more patients will be diagnosed with hypertension.

Although there are several risk factors for high blood pressure that you cannot control, such as your age, family history, or ethnicity, there are plenty that are in your control. One major contributor to high blood pressure is a regular high intake of sodium. The average American consumes at least 3,400 mg of sodium a day. For a healthy adult, a limit of 2,300 mg a day is recommended. An intake of 1,500 mg of sodium or less is recommended for older adults or those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Consider some of these tips to help lower your daily intake of sodium and to keep your blood pressure in check:

First and foremost, it’s not the salt shaker. The first thought when told to lower salt intake is usually “I don’t salt my food”. This is great news! However, this isn’t the culprit for the country’s high sodium intake. Over 80 percent of the sodium we consume is already added to the foods we purchase at the grocery store or we order at restaurants.

Read the label. Always compare the sodium content of products between brands or different options within the same brand. A quick way to determine if it is a low sodium option is to look at the percent daily value number listed alongside the sodium section on the label. If it is 5 percent or less, it is a low source of sodium. If the value is closer to 20 percent or higher, it is a large source of sodium and you may want to reconsider.

Get creative with your own seasonings. Prepackaged seasonings can be loaded with unnecessary sodium. Stock up on different herbs and spices and play around with new combinations to help season your dishes with new flavors instead of relying on salt. Try using more fruits and vegetables such as cranberries, fresh lemon or lime juice or zest, or peppers for that extra flavor.

Speak up at restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask for your meal to be prepared with little to no salt and ask for condiments and dressings on the side. Don’t be fooled by ordering a salad either. Some salads can easily surpass 2,000 mg of sodium.

Fill up on potassium rich foods. This nutrient can help balance the effects of too much sodium in your diet. Try to aim for at least 3,500 mg a day of potassium by eating foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, beans, avocados, tomatoes, tomato products, tuna, and yogurt.

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Erica Hall is a certified wellness coach at UnityPoint Health–Trinity.