How Salt Intake Affects Diabetes

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Diabetes, a chronic metabolic disease, affects millions of Americans. People with diabetes have a higher likelihood of developing health complications that impact the heart, nervous system and kidneys. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is twice as common in diabetics as in nondiabetics, which increases the risk of a range of cardiovascular diseases. High salt intake contributes to hypertension, but salt does not have an effect on blood sugar.

Blood Sugar and Diabetes

You get energy from the nutrients in foods containing proteins, fats and carbohydrates, but carbohydrates are the only types of foods that directly affect your blood sugar. Diabetes prevents your body from properly using blood sugar, or glucose, the main source of energy for your cells. Normally, when you eat a carbohydrate, it is metabolized into smaller sugar molecules, or glucose, sent into your bloodstream and met by the hormone insulin, which then transports the glucose into your cells. A diabetic does not produce or use insulin properly, and the glucose gets left in the bloodstream. Salt has no effect on the blood sugar process, but excess salt does have other implications for the health of a diabetic.

Salt, Hypertension and Diabetes

People with diabetes have an increased risk of high blood pressure, notes the American Diabetes Association, because excess sodium in your diet causes blood pressure to rise. Common table salt contains 40 percent sodium, an essential mineral your body uses in small amounts for maintaining fluid balance. Managing blood pressure is crucial for diabetics because diabetic hypertensive patients develop coronary artery disease or an enlarged heart more commonly than people with singular hypertension or diabetes, according to a review in "Advances in Cardiology." Additionally, high dietary salt intake in diabetics may have a causative role in higher mortality rates; research is ongoing to identify the specifics of the mechanism of action.

Controlling or Preventing Hypertension

Controlling diabetes with accompanying hypertension generally involves prescription medications and lifestyle changes. According to a 2002 article in the "American Family Physician," medication therapies include ACE inhibitors, diuretics or combination medications along with implementation of a low-salt diet, exercise and weight loss as needed. Prevention of hypertension in diabetics includes following physician-advised diabetic eating plans, limiting sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day and managing other existing medical conditions.

Low Salt Options

Packaged foods contain nutrition labels with sodium content to help you track intake per serving. Foods highest in sodium generally include frozen meals, canned goods, processed meats and pickled foods. Choose low-sodium or salt-free food items and replace table salt with herbs or spices to flavor your foods. Reduce sodium in meats by eating fresh poultry, fish or beef instead of cured, smoked or canned varieties. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned varieties with additives. Whole grains like wheat bread, pasta and brown rice are lower in sodium, but these contain carbohydrates, which you may need to monitor for blood sugar control.