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Do pass on the salt            Archive

When Olive Braman was told that she had raised blood pressure, she couldn’t believe it. Not with her healthy diet and lifestyle. Here’s how she got her blood pressure back to normal without medication

When my GP said that I had high blood pressure and he would have to consider medication I was more than slightly irritated. Everyone knows that it’s overweight, inactive, stressed smokers who have high blood pressure. I felt extremely fit. I weigh under nine stone, play tennis and badminton, walk a lot, and don’t suffer from stress. Why should it happen to me?

The GP was non-committal. “Sometimes it just happens. There’s no apparent reason.”

My blood pressure was 170 over 100. Normal blood pressure reads 120 over 80. The 120 reading is called systolic – pressure exerted by the blood while the heart is pumping. The 80 reading is diastolic – blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.


Readings of 140 over 90  to 160 over 95 are borderline. Anything above 180 over 115 is severely elevated. More than borderline, less than elevated… that was me. High blood pressure is thought to affect one in five adults in the UK and is often associated  with coronary heart disease and kidney disorders. I had no symptoms at all but warning signs can include:

  • Headaches

  • Sweating

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Vision problems.

The GP said I should visit him for a check-up in a month. They like to double and treble check to get an average reading.

Four weeks later, after a trip to Spain , lightly bronzed and brimming with good health, I bounced into the surgery. The blood pressure monitor was applied to my arm. Relaxed and confident I waited for the good news. The doctor removed the apparatus.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’m afraid it’s up again.”

“Are you sure?” I squeaked.

“It’s 180 over 100.” 

I was inclined to be sulky. It seemed that the holiday had done me no good at all.

My GP was sympathetic. “Let’s see if there’s anything in your lifestyle that could account for it, “ he said. “ What about exercise?”

“Lots!” I replied virtuously “ Tennis, badminton, yoga, walking!”           

“Good, good,” he nodded. “ Tell me about your diet.”

“I don’t touch fried food, or roasts,” I whined. “ I have plenty of fibre, I use skimmed milk, eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eat wholemeal bread, no butter, and hardly drink at all.”                              

“Do you eat much salt?”

He couldn’t catch me out.

“I don’t use it in cooking, don’t add it to my meals, don’t eat many crisps, or bacon.”

“Right,” he said. “Take these diet sheets and see if you think there are any changes you could make and we’ll keep on testing you for a little longer.”

I took them, rather sniffily. I already knew what they were going to tell me. More water, more fruit and vegetable, fewer fats and cut down on salt .

Salt has had a lot of bad publicity in recent years despite being a vital ingredient in the human diet for centuries. It is a valuable commodity. Food is preserved in salt. People get cramp if they don’t have enough. My family always automatically added salt to every meal but, following the advice of the food gurus, I had stopped doing that. So I could not see that this bit of paper was going to help me.

A few days later I read an article on nutrition which said “Table salt is high in the mineral which raises blood pressure. This happens because sodium causes the blood vessels to contract. The minerals magnesium and potassium, on the other hand, can help relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.”

I never knew that bit about causing the blood vessels to contract. But I don’t eat salt or salted food – apart from a few olives.

Actually, I do have rather a lot of olives when I am Spain. It would be fair to say that I guzzle them -nibble them before meals, add them to salads, eat them with sandwiches –  probably four or more ounces a day. I started to think about this. Stupidly I had not taken on board that olives are preserved in salt. Also I had been eating salted sunflower seeds in the belief that they were good for me, and Spanish meals are often heavily salted.

Could this be causing my high blood pressure?

I decided to follow the diet sheets to the letter  - no more smoked fish, salted meats, stock cubes, vegetable extracts, soy sauce, crisps, ready made meals, pickles or sauces.  And I heeded the advice about magnesium and potassium, I devoured fruit and broccoli and seeds, all of which provide these minerals.                                        

Two weeks later I presented myself at the surgery.

Success! The BP was down to 160 over 90. 

My GP was cautious.  “It looks promising but come for another test next week.”

I persevered with the “saltless” diet and reduced my bread intake, as bread contains quite a lot of salt.

On the two succeeding visits I registered 158 over 95 and 146 over 86.

The GP was mildly congratulatory. He said that I did not need seem to need medication, apart from a diuretic to reduce fluid retention, but advised that I should have regular check ups

I have found that it is possible to adjust to life without added salt. Lemon, pepper, vinegar and herbs are good for flavouring and I eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. I have relaxed my regime to include a little cheese and the occasional splodge of tomato sauce, but sadly, salt and vinegar crisps are out - as well as Spanish olives. The diet sheet also suggests that I avoid aged cheeses, avocados, chicken liver, chocolate, sour cream, wine and yoghurt! Of course virtually everything in cans or packets, even ice cream and muesli, contain sodium so it is impossible entirely to avoid it.

However when I boast how clever I have been in reducing my blood pressure  people clearly think I am just another crank who has succumbed to the latest food fad. But a study in the Lancet back in 1989 found that people who ate only 3-6g of salt per day had much lower blood pressure than those who consumed 12g or more. So I intend to persevere with my “saltless” diet which appears to improve my chances of living to a ripe old age.  

Natural supplements which have been shown to reduce blood pressure are: magnesium 300-500mg per day; vitamin C 500- 1000 per day; garlic 600-900mg per day. The average salt intake in the UK is about 10g per day.  



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