The Effect of Sodium and Cholesterol on Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force with which blood pumped from the heart moves through a blood vessel or artery wall. High blood pressure or hypertension refers to the condition where the pressure of blood moving through the arteries is above the normal range. High blood pressure poses various risks to the heart and other organs in the body. In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown, however, scientists speculate that poor diet is a leading cause.

Nutritional status and food intake have an impact on the severity of high blood pressure. Excessive salt and high cholesterol intake predispose to hypertension or high blood pressure. In this article, we discuss how salt and cholesterol affect blood pressure and tips to reduce salt and cholesterol intake through diet.

How Does Sodium Affect Blood Pressure?

Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. It is important to human life, however, excessive intake can be dangerous to health. Sodium and chloride which both make up salt are needed for essential bodily functions. Both minerals help keep the balance of body fluids, aid muscle and heart contraction, maintain nerve function, and enhance the transport and absorption of nutrients by the cell membranes. The body gets rid of sodium and chloride through urine and sweat. So when you sweat as a result of physical exercise, your salt level decreases.  

The kidney serves as a filter in the body. It removes toxins and unwanted fluid from cells and channels them to the bladder. When you consume too much sodium, your body holds more water and your kidney works harder to remove fluid, which then builds up in the body. The increased fluid in your system increases blood volume. This causes the excess water in your system to put stress on your heart and blood vessels. This added stress can cause blood vessels to stiffen over time, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Does Reducing Salt Lower Blood Pressure?

The effect of salt varies in people. Some people can increase their salt intake with little or no effect on their blood pressure. While high salt intake can affect the kidney’s ability to regulate fluid and ultimately lead to increased blood pressure in other people. People who are middle-aged or old, overweight or obese, and African-American are more likely to have salt sensitivity. Salt sensitivity is also linked with aging.

Moderate salt reductions (for example 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per day 3 to 5 grams) have been shown to lower blood pressure. The result, however, may not be the same for everyone and will depend on a person's starting blood pressure, genetics, current salt intake, illness status, and medication use. It's important to keep in mind that high salt intake isn't the only habit that can affect blood pressure. Other things that can help lower blood pressure include eating healthy foods rich in potassium, quitting smoking, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

How Does Cholesterol Affect Blood Pressure?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid made by the liver and derived from animal-based food products such as meat, dairy, and seafood. This fat-like substance is vital to good health as it helps the body build cell walls, make vitamins, and some hormones. However, too much cholesterol can put one at risk of chronic health issues. There are two forms of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) which is known as good fat and LDL (low-density lipoproteins) which is bad fat. When you eat too much LDL and not enough HDL, you put yourself at risk for heart disease and stroke. 

High cholesterol is also linked with high blood pressure. When you eat foods that are heavy in saturated and trans fats (LDL), your liver produces more cholesterol than it should. This raises cholesterol levels, which can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to cholesterol plaque and calcium), requiring the heart to work much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, blood pressure rises to dangerously high levels.

Does Reducing Cholesterol Lower Blood Pressure?

Cholesterol is barely soluble in water, so it cannot dissolve in the bloodstream. Instead, it is transported throughout the body by lipoproteins. High cholesterol levels are caused by a variety of factors such as ultra-processed foods which are usually high in saturated fat, certain diseases, genetics, and smoking. Maintaining a healthy cholesterol level helps regulate blood pressure and lower the risk of heart diseases. Also, eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg. 

Tips To Reduce Salt and Cholesterol Intake Through Diet

Most of the sodium we consume can be traced back to the processed foods we eat. Our salt intake through these foods accounts for about 75% of the salt we eat. Only a small amount of the sodium we eat comes from the salt we add while cooking. Thus, it can be difficult to reduce salt intake. 

Reducing cholesterol intake is less tricky. To minimize cholesterol intake, focus on eating a balanced diet that is low in trans fats and saturated fats. Here are some tips on how to reduce salt and cholesterol intake.

  • Check food labels for salt and fat content.
  • Avoid salty flavorings such as soy sauce, gravy granules, ready-made sauces, and stock cubes.
  • Opt for natural spices, vinegar, lemon or fruit juices, and herbs to flavor your food.
  • Choose low salt cereal and bread.
  • Avoid processed or smoked meat and fish.
  • Cook with less salt.
  • Avoid foods like red meat and full-fat dairy products as they contain saturated fat.
  • Eat less vegetable oil and margarine as they often contain trans fat.
  • Increase your intake of soluble fiber which can be found in foods like legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

The Bottom Line 

Even though salt and cholesterol are vital to body functions, high levels of these substances can be dangerous to human health. Whether you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or you would like to prevent it, eating a healthy diet that contains less salt and bad fat can be very helpful. Also, it will also help a great deal to engage in physical activity and quit unhealthy habits such as smoking and consuming too much alcohol.