Archive for Wednesday, September 8, 1999


September 8, 1999


When I have my blood pressure taken, what do the two numbers stand for?

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against artery walls as the heart pumps blood through the body.

When you get your blood pressure checked, the top number (or systolic pressure) is the force of the blood against the artery walls when the heart beats. The bottom number (or diastolic or resting pressure) is the force on the artery walls when the heart relaxes between beats.

Does high blood pressure and hypertension mean the same thing? Who is most at risk?

Yes, hypertension is just another term for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a condition in which your blood pressure goes up above normal limits and stays at that level. In most cases the cause is unknown. Because there often are no symptoms, a person can have high blood pressure and not even know it.

Everyone, including children, should have regular blood pressure checks. If not treated, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

Certain people are more at risk than others, but anyone can develop high blood pressure. It is less common in populations with diets low in salt than in populations with diets high in salt. Other factors that affect blood pressure are heredity, obesity and excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Some people can consume a lot of salt without developing high blood pressure; others cannot. Those who cannot are "salt sensitive." Those individuals should limit their salt and sodium intake. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell who is "salt sensitive."

How much sodium do I need each day?

A limited amount of sodium is important to include in the diet of the average person. Sodium helps regulate body fluids and helps maintain normal blood volume. It is also needed for the normal function of nerves and muscles. Yet, most Americans consume far more sodium than they need.

The National Research Council, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute all suggest 500 milligrams of sodium a day as a safe minimum intake (less than 1/4 teaspoon salt). The average American consumes in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day. This is 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of salt.

Because everyone is different, the exact amount of sodium people should consume is not known. Some health authorities suggest that healthy adults try to limit the amount of sodium they consume to 2,400 milligrams a day.

If you remember that 1 level teaspoon of salt provides 2,325 milligrams of sodium, you'll be able to estimate the amount of sodium you add to foods when you're cooking and seasoning at the table.

Aren't sodium and salt the same thing?

No. Salt is not the same as sodium. Salt is only 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

How can I reduce sodium intake?

The average American consumes sodium in three ways: 15 percent from the salt shaker, 10 percent from foods that naturally contain sodium, and 75 percent from processed foods. Americans need to remove the salt shaker from the table, but most important, they need to choose processed foods less often.

Here's an easy way to think about making wiser choices at the supermarket:

Sodium free: The product contains less than 5 mg. per serving. Terms such as "unsalted," "no-salt-added," or "without added salt" may be used on the label only if no salt is added during processing, and the food is usually processed with salt.

Very low sodium: The product contains 35 mg. or less per serving. Foods include fruits, vegetables, plain popcorn, macaroni, spaghetti and noodles.

Low-sodium foods: The product contains 140 mg. or less per serving. Foods include bread, meat, chicken, fish, milk and margarine.

High-sodium foods: The product contains more than 140 mg. Foods include cheese, luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacon, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, many frozen entrees, canned soups, canned entrees, convenience mixes (for example Hamburger Helper), many snack crackers and most chips.

Reduced sodium: The product is reduced in sodium by at least 25 percent per serving compared with the regular version.

Remember, you can't judge a food's sodium content by its taste. For example, instant puddings, danish pastry, chocolate cake and canned kidney beans all contain a lot of sodium but don't taste very salty. Trust the "Nutrition Facts" label, not your taste buds!

-- Susan Krumm is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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