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Hold the Mustard – and the Hypertension

Imagine you are at a barbeque and determined to eat only healthy food.  You bypass the usual pitfalls of mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad, potato salad and hot dogs. Instead you choose a marinated grilled chicken breast and take your barbeque sauce on the side and add a dab of ketchup and mustard.  That meal is admirably low in fat, but it raises the daily intake of sodium a surprising amount—so it’s a debatably healthy meal for a person with hypertension.

Salt sneaks into the American diet in surprising ways.  Much of it comes from savory additions such as marinades and salad dressing—but condiments are also a culprit.   It may seem like a health-wise choice to substitute a lower-fat condiment for a higher-fat sauce—for example, putting sun-dried tomatoes or pickles on a turkey sandwich instead of slathering on Russian dressing—but not always. Condiments can contain high levels of salt and send sodium consumption off the charts.1

According to the American Heart Association, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, placing an added burden on the heart. If your blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg or above, your doctor may recommend a low-salt diet or advise you to avoid salt altogether.2 However, “shaking the salt habit” is hard for most people because Americans consume so much processed food—including condiments.  

Anyone who is over 51 or has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease should limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, according to recommendations from the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control.3


Soy sauce is clearly a salty condiment, and most brands contain approximately 1,000 milligrams per tablespoon.  Some less expected high-sodium condiments include:

  • Steak sauce – 280 mg per tablespoon
  • Ketchup – 160 mg per tablespoon
  • Marinades with teriyaki sauce – 690 mg per tablespoon
  • Canned jalapeno peppers – 568 mg per quarter cup4 

You probably aren't even aware of just how much sodium is in your diet. Consider that a single teaspoon of table salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Food labels are legally required to provide nutritional information, including sodium content.  However, the amounts are given in milligrams and may be confusing. It is important to understand just how much sodium is in salt so you can take measures to control your intake. (These amounts are approximate.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Of course, condiments are not the primary source of sodium in the American diet.   The bulk of sodium comes from processed and prepared foods.  These foods are typically high in salt and additives that contain sodium. Processed foods include bread, pasta, meat and egg dishes, pizza, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, soups, and fast foods. 6

Low-salt alternatives

To make meals that are high in taste but low in sodium try the following:

  • Marinate your food in orange or pineapple juice instead of teriyaki sauce or another high-sodium item.
  • Substitute vinegar or lemon juice for salt in recipes and at the table.
  • Use a sparing amounts of high-quality olive oil to make foods more flavorful.
  • Think “spices” not “sauces” when preparing food.  Recipes with curry, turmeric, basil and tarragon, for example, are flavorful—and you can use nonfat yogurt as a base.

The Nutrition Services Department at Summit Medical Group helps patients make healthy food choices. The registered dieticians and other trained staff there can design a healthy diet plan for you even if you have no health issues but want to adopt healthy dietary habits. They can help you not only lower sodium intake but lose weight, eat well during your pregnancy to maintain your health and the health of your baby, and improve your nutrition to address specific medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypothyroidism, and fatigue.

Click here for more information
on SMG’s Nutrition Services



1.  American Heart Association. Shaking the salt habit. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp Accessed July 27, 2015.

2. American Heart Association. Managing blood pressure with a heart healthy diet. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Managing-Blood-Pressure-with-a-Heart-Healthy-Diet_UCM_301879_Article.jsp. Accessed May 1, 2013.

3. February 2012 Report from CDC Vital Signs. "Dietary Guidelines for Sodium and Potassium." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 July 2015.

5. American Heart Association. Shaking the salt habit.

6. "Nutrition and Healthy Eating." Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit. The Mayo Clinic, 9 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 July 2015.