Salt is used to prepare, preserve, and enhance the flavour of foods, however, too much of it can trigger illnesses. Reducing salt intake by one teaspoon each day can lower blood pressure, according to a new study published by JAMA Network, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association. ALSO READ: Pass the salt? What you should know about sodium chloride The study indicates that this one simple step can provide the same effect as a common blood pressure medication called hydrochlorothiazide. It is also noted that reducing sodium intake by 2,300 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt, can assist in lowering daily sodium intake closer to the recommended levels of 1,200-1,500 milligrams. ALSO READ: Nutrition: Five reasons to cut down salt However, experts say that an individual shouldn’t aim for an intake of zero sodium, because sodium in our diet is still essential, noting that sodium needs vary between individuals, depending on factors like physical activity levels. It is also stated that a low-sodium diet is always the first step in reducing high blood pressure, if someone is unable to achieve a normal blood pressure with a low-sodium diet, they ought to start medication. According to Claudine Umulisa, a registered nutritionist and dietician at Nutri-Sante Rwanda, a comprehensive nutrition cabinet centre in Kicukiro, not all kinds of salts cause high blood pressure — the salt that is normally consumed in our daily lives is sodium chloride (NaCl) and is an essential nutrient necessary for the maintenance of plasma volume, acid-base balance, and transmission of nerve impulses and normal cell function. Umulisa explained that sodium deficiency is a problem, and excess sodium is linked to adverse health outcomes, including increased blood pressure. “Since sodium must be balanced with potassium, when there is excess sodium or insufficient potassium in the diet, this results in excessive intracellular sodium, which contracts vascular smooth muscle, restricting blood flow, thus increasing blood pressure,” she said. Umulisa added that high sodium can cause fluid overload when a person’s kidneys retain sodium, this increases sodium in the rest of the body, causing the body to produce too much fluid which can cause swelling, high blood pressure, and potential heart problems, among other conditions. Hyguette Irambona, a registered nutritionist at Gardens for Health International, Gasabo, said high blood pressure is simply the amount of pressure the blood expresses to the walls of the arteries. She noted that salt attracts water to balance the concentration in the blood, and when there is excessive salt in the blood, it draws more water into the blood, thus increasing the volume of blood, which raises blood pressure. Irambona explained that although salt is important as it enhances the food texture and flavour, not everyone knows that it is dangerous to consume in excess. Umulisa urges lessening salt intake by changing eating behaviours, reducing table salt in cooked food, lowering processed food consumption, choosing labels with low sodium, and opting for no added sodium while buying food or snacks. She said it is necessary to read nutrition facts labels on products and choose the options with the lowest amount of sodium. To reduce the salt intake, she urges cooking at home, limiting salt when cooking, and choosing fresh food rather than canned, for example, substituting it with fresh fruits and veggies. “People with hypertension may consider potassium chloride also known as sea salt as it’s healthier than sodium,” Umulisa said. Umulisa urges physical exercise, stressing that it is a key to living a healthy life. She added that reducing sodium intake doesn’t only lower the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease or cardiovascular diseases, but also kidney disease. Irambona further noted that the other health benefits of taking less salt other than reducing blood pressure are to lessen the risk of water retention and allow the absorption of some micronutrients that improve bone and teeth health. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams, for people with hypertension it is advisable to take 1,500 milligrams of salt per day.