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New Study Shows Benefits of Lower Dietary Sodium.

Almost one quarter of adults in the United States have hypertension. Less than half of US adults have what is considered to be optimal blood pressure (below 120/80). Many factors influence blood pressure, including obesity, sodium intake, and alcohol use. In 1997, we reported that a dietary approach using generous amounts of fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy products with reduced saturated and total fat was effective in reducing blood pressure. This diet was called the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Of course, we don't know whether or not a diet that did not contain any animal products would have been even more effective.

A follow-up to this study found that reducing sodium intake from the high level typical of American diets to a low level of sodium in conjunction with the DASH diet had a significant effect on blood pressure. This effect, in those study participants with hypertension, was the same as or greater than the reduction that would be seen with blood pressure medication. The combination of the two dietary changes, namely more fruits and vegetables and less red meat along with a reduction in sodium, led to the greatest effect on blood pressure. The diet and sodium reduction worked to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension and in people without hypertension, in men and women, in African-Americans and caucasians. Even in people who did not use the DASH diet, a significant reduction in blood pressure was seen when sodium was reduced.

Currently, the average level of sodium intake in the United States is 3.5 grams (3,500 milligrams) per day. This is the equivalent of almost 9 grams or 1.5 teaspoons of salt. The majority of this salt comes from prepackaged foods and not from salt added in cooking. To achieve a reduction in sodium to either 2.3 grams (good) or 1.2 grams (better), food manufacturers will need to produce more low-sodium foods.

Vegetarians typically have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians, possibly for dietary reasons or because vegetarians tend to have lower weights. Nevertheless, many vegetarian convenience foods are quite high in sodium. Consumers can contact manufacturers and request that they reduce sodium in their products. If we don't ask for it, chances are they won't produce it!

Sacks FM, et al. 2001. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet. New Engl J Med 344: 3-10.

Greenland P. 2001. Beating high blood pressure with low sodium DASH. N Engl J Med 344: 53-55.
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Author:Mangels, Reed
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2001
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