I remember a particular year when I visited my grandparents’ home in Texas. I must have been 10 years of age or so. Anyone who knew them would readily agree that they were the epitome of kindness. Each time I visited, I anticipated yummy food, an ancient video game set, and classic movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Everything in that visit went as usual except for one thing: the food. The usually tasty, homemade food now was noticeably bland.
I overheard my parents chatting about how there was no salt in the food–I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Learning that the “blandness” was due to a lack of salt, I quickly inquired about this paucity of table salt. Come to find out, there was no shortage of salt at the grocery store; my grandmother had purposely excluded the salt from her recipes to help my grandfather with his heart problems. The food tasted much better after my mother retrieved a salt shaker from the kitchen cabinet.
Twenty years later, I was no longer sampling salt-less food; rather, I was learning about it in medical school. Come to find out, dietary sodium reduction was a legitimate lifestyle modification recommended by the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. I could more than accurately conclude that my late grandfather had high blood pressure. The JNC 7 reports that blood pressure can drop by 2-8mmHg with reduction in dietary sodium. In Naturopathic Medicine we learned that appropriate sodium substitutes could make sodium reduction more achievable without compromising the taste of food. Other salts exist that contain other substances than sodium.
Despite the evidence behind low sodium diets, I asked myself: How does sodium affect blood pressure? I would discover that answer much later while teaching kidney physiology as an adjunct professor. The overall answer is a complex one; yet, it can be explained simply: Sodium(normal table salt consists of Sodium and Chloride) increases your blood osmolarity which ultimately lead to an increase in blood volume.
Physicians employ a number of medications to decrease blood volumes in patients with high blood pressure including diuretic medications. Lower blood volumes ultimately leads to lower blood pressures. Our body’s natural responce to an increased sodium ingestion is to drink more water and to reabsorb more water from the urine in the kidneys, ultimately leading to higher blood volumes and higher blood pressure. Our body is trying to dilute a sodium concentrated blood stream by filling it with more water by using a force commonly known as osmosis in the kidneys and by making us drink more.
So don’t fret. If a low-sodium diet has been recommended to you, there is still hope of a tasty meal with sodium-free salts.