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Foods you might not realise are raising your blood pressure

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as ‘hypertension’, is when the pressure in your blood vessels is unusually high.  This causes stress on the inside of your arteries and makes the heart pump even harder to get blood around your body.  Our diet can significantly affect the development of high blood pressure and it can be hard to know which foods affect what, so let’s look at what to avoid when you have high blood pressure.

What is sodium? 

Sodium is a compound found in salt.  A higher intake of salt increases the levels of sodium in our blood which our body tries to ‘water down’ to stop it becoming toxic.  In many cases, this increase in volume increases the pressure within our blood vessels and causes high blood pressure.

Avoiding salt doesn’t sound that hard does it?  I’ll just cut down the amount I put on my fries.  That’s where you’re wrong – salt comes disguised in so many forms that we often eat well over our daily allowance without even noticing.  In fact, according to the Food Commission, 90% of us eat over our daily recommended salt limit1 (6g of salt or 2.4g of sodium – that’s like one flat teaspoon of table salt), with our current daily average at 10-12g of salt per day2.  Time to look again at that burger, the buns, and even the Fanta!  Here’s some common foods that contain far more salt than you realise.

The dangers of deli meat

Also known as cold cuts or lunch meats, these sliced meats contain on average 1.3g of sodium per hundred grams1.  In a particularly salty meat such as bologna, just two slices contain over 0.9g1 – that’s over a third of your daily allowance.

Bread contains more sodium than you might think

While content can significantly vary between brands, 100g of bread on average contains around 0.5g of sodium1.  A study by the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) also showed that a third of loaves contain as much salt in one slice as the average packet of crisps3 does.  To cut down on your daily salt count, consider buying locally made bread that has fewer preservatives in it; or even try our own recipe bread that can be accessed with one of our meal plans. 

Why you should avoid frozen pizza

Salt is used in pizza dough, meats, cheeses, sauces and is even used to preserve the pizza after cooking.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a typical 14-inch pepperoni pizza contained 5.1g of sodium.  That’s almost 1.5 times the recommended daily allowance!  

Surely not energy drinks?

The electrolytes in energy drinks are designed to replace the salt lost from the body during sweating.  When you drink an energy drink without exercising, you are probably unknowingly increasing your salt levels far more than you might expect.  A large can of Red Bull contains around 0.2g of sodium according to the USDA.

So, is there any food that hasn’t got an incredible amount of salt hiding in it?  Well, there are plenty of low salt food options at your supermarket – and if in doubt, just remember to check the label to see how much salt there really is.  Most importantly, always try to stick below your daily recommended intake of 6g salt per day.

Whilst sodium is a major risk factor, there are other substances that can affect high blood pressure when taken in large amounts that you might not expect:

How can Sugar harm my blood pressure?

Sugar has been shown to indirectly predispose individuals to high blood pressure by contributing towards obesity and weight gain.  Some studies4 also suggest that certain sugars can have a direct effect on raising blood pressure.  But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we want you to avoid all sugars – in fact, the same study showed that sugars from fruit can actively decrease blood pressure.  

Another Reason You Might Want to Avoid Alcohol

Like sugar, excessive alcohol consumption is indirectly linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure by contributing towards weight gain.  It is also directly linked to an increase in blood pressure because it upsets the balance of chemicals in the blood rather like sodium does. 

Why Avoid Trans and Saturated Fats?

Cholesterol is a substance in the blood that can contribute to high blood pressure; it comes in a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ form.  The ‘bad’ form of cholesterol can build up in your arteries, making it harder for the heart to pump blood all around the body.

Certain types of fats, known as trans fats and saturated fats, can increase the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol.  Trans fats even decrease the level of beneficial ‘good’ cholesterol – for tips on lowering cholesterol, check out this blog.

Saturated fats can be found in meats butter and cheese, while trans fats are found in foods like margarine and crisps.  Whilst a certain amount of fat in the diet is recommended, it is advised to eat fewer saturated and trans fats, and more of the type of fat that can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, and fish.

Always check the label

So maybe it’s time to rethink how what your eating can affect your blood pressure – its not just obvious sources like crisps or table salt that contain compounds like sodium which are damaging in larger quantities.  Always remember to check the label first to see how much you’re eating; you might be surprised!  Homemade food is often lower in these damaging chemicals due to the lack of preservatives; why not look at our healthy meal plans that are low in sodium and cater for individual health problems too.


1) Monitoring sodium in the food supply [internet]. US Department of Agriculture. [cited 2020 Dec 09]

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2) Articles published [internet]. The Food Commission. [cited 2020 Dec 09]

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3 ) Breads Survey [internet]. Action on Salt. [cited2020Dec09]

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4) Added Sugar Intake is Associated with Blood Pressure [internet].  MDPI. [cited 2020 Dec 09] 

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