Why Sugar Will Raise Your Blood Pressure More Than Salt

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Learn how and why sugar will raise your blood pressure. And learn why lowering salt in your diet can have adverse health consequences.©Depositphotos.com/deyangeorgiev2

To salt or not to salt, that is the question.

According to your doctor, your government, just about every major health organization, and probably your mother (at least mine) salt will raise your blood pressure.  This thinking is so pervasive that it’s taken as a fact by just about everyone.

It also sells A LOT of drugs.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no connection to salt intake and high blood pressure.

OK, I lied.

I admit it. There is a connection.

But it’s not nearly as much as you think.

Let me explain why in a somewhat roundabout way.

Carbs and Water Weight

As part of my nutrition practice I teach a 12 week group weight loss class.  Each week we discuss a different underlying cause of weight gain with steps to correct it.  Class members learn to address their digestive issues.  They learn to identify hidden food sensitivities.  They learn how to correct fatty acid deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, brain chemistry deficiencies and many others. 

However, the most important underlying issue is addressed in week 1.  This is the ultimate foundation. Everything is predicated on this.  And that is carbohydrate restriction.  More specifically, refined carbohydrate restriction (notice I did not say calorie restriction).  Class members learn right from the start that it is not how much they eat but what they eat that is most important.

In week 1 we discuss the science of carbs.  We differentiate between good carbs and bad carbs and the different effects they have on our blood sugar levels.  We see how too many bad/refined carbs result in too much sugar in the blood which is dangerous and how the body then converts and stores sugar as fat as a defense mechanism.

We take a historical look at the evolution of the American diet in the 20th century and see the clear influence of industry with the rise of refined carbohydrates.  We see a clear connection to this trend and the rise of chronic diseases in industrialized countries. 

We explore the bad science that has led to the idea that fat is bad.  We dismantle the myth that fat makes us fat and we learn how vital it is to our body’s functioning.  And we learn how fat and protein switch the body’s metabolism from fat storing to fat burning.

 “Yeah yeah yeah, so what does this have to do with salt?!” you ask.

Generally speaking most class members lose the most weight in the first two weeks of the 12 week class.  But they’re not really losing fat.  They’re losing water.  Why?

Carbohydrates cause the body to hold on to water.  When the water volume increases in our blood, the pressure in our blood vessels increase. 

The same can happen when we consume salt. 

However, only one of these will cause chronically elevated blood pressure.  Let’s see which one is the true culprit.

Understanding Salt

Salt is composed mostly of sodium and chloride.  We can’t live without either.  Our blood, sweat and tears are salty.  Sodium and chloride play vital roles in nerve conduction, muscle contraction (including the heart), digestion and blood pressure, to name a few.

As with everything, our body regulates their concentrations so they don’t get too high or too low.

Sodium’s concentration in our blood is maintained by water.  The kidneys job is to maintain this concentration.  Consume more salt and your kidneys will excrete it into the urine along with water to flush it out.  Consume less salt and the kidneys will hold on to water to maintain the concentration.

So when we consume salt, the blood pressure goes up slightly as the kidneys work to maintain the right concentration.  And vice versa.  This has given us the belief that reducing salt in our diet will lower our blood pressure.  Of course it does, but here’s the million dollar question:

Does it drop our blood pressure enough to resolve chronically high blood pressure?

And the answer is a resounding NO!

Reducing salt in your diet has a minimal effect on lowering your blood pressure.   Because salt is so vital to your health, your body will hold on to it in your bloodstream so it doesn’t get too diluted.  If you have high blood pressure, study after study has shown that a significant reduction of salt in your diet will only drop it 2-5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

Hypertension is defined as having a systolic pressure (top number) of at least 20 mmHg over normal and a diastolic pressure (bottom number) at least 10 mmHG over normal.  Normal is considered 120/80 mmHg so hypertension is defined as being above 140/90 (Prehypertension is the range between normal and hypertension).  Therefore, reducing hypertension by 2-5 mmHg via salt restriction when you’re already at least 20 mmHg over what is considered normal just gets you slightly less hypertension.   This does not resolve hypertension.

The History of Salt

Before the advent of refrigeration foods were preserved and cured in salt.  Contrary to popular belief salt has dramatically decreased in our diet since WWII.  In fact, ‘sal’ is Latin for the word salt. In Roman times, sal-ad was traditionally meant to be vegetables and salt or a salty dressing.  Similarly the word ‘salary’ also comes from the Latin ‘sal’ as Roman soldiers were paid in salt.

Go to the “history of salt” page on Wikipedia.  Here’s what the first sentence reads:  “Salt’s ability to preserve food was a foundation of civilization.”  If you read further, you’ll see that humans have gone to great lengths throughout history to secure salt.  Empires have risen and fallen due to salt trade routes and salt production.

Furthermore, salt’s use as a healing remedy dates back thousands of years.  Cultures throughout the world have found healing properties to salt water.  Could this possibly be a reason so many of us are drawn to the ocean?

In fact, salt is so vital to your health, that not getting enough can have adverse health consequences including an increase in your likelihood of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, the very conditions we’re told are related to too much salt.

Why Sugar Will Raise Your Blood Pressure More Than Salt

So if it’s not salt, what is it?

It seems like in everything I write, in all my public talks, in all my discussions about nutrition, I somehow find my way to this statistic:

The average American consumes 150 pounds of refined sugar per year.

We are so used to it in our diet that we don’t realize it’s relatively new historically speaking.  Prior to industrialization, making refined sugar from sugar cane was a long and laborious process.   The sugar industry was built on the back of the slave trade.  Initially, only wealthy Europeans could afford it. This is also the first evidence we see of diabetes.

With the advent of industrialization in the 19th century, industry took over for slave labor and made the manufacturing more efficient.  Throughout the 20th century, sugar became increasingly available to everyone as the food industry put it in everything.

This is without question the root reason to our type II diabetes epidemic (chronically elevated blood sugar). This is the root reason to our obesity epidemic as the body stores excess sugar as fat.  And yes, it’s the root reason to hypertension.

Hypertension is a condition of industrialized societies.  Countless researchers including Dr. Price did not find hypertension in non-industrialized societies despite many cultures liberally consuming salt in the form of sea salt, sea vegetables and salt-preserved foods.  Nor did they find rampant sugar consumption.

We know that hypertension goes along with obesity, heart disease and diabetes, the so called diseases of civilization.

Again, too many refined carbohydrates increase water in the blood thus increasing blood pressure. Refined carbs have no nutrients. The nutrients are stripped out in the refining process.  As we’ve seen the body must maintain sodium in the bloodstream or significant health problems will ensue.  Consider that an intravenous solution of salt water is the first thing given to ER patients.

So if the body is not getting sodium through the diet it must retain it.  It will do this by retaining water in the blood vessels to maintain the concentration of sodium.  Thus, blood pressure rises and thus we get hypertension.

And this is why most people lose the most weight in the form of water in the first two weeks on carbohydrate-restricted diets.  This is exactly what happens in the weight loss program I teach.

And of course, class members blood pressure drops as well.  Many stop their blood pressure medications.

This is just one of the many benefits that come with restricting sugar and processed carbohydrates.  For others cholesterol comes down, creaky joints feel better, mood improves and so on.

What About the Studies?

You would be surprised just how many studies exist that shows no connection to salt and hypertension. So forget the studies.  Study it in yourself.  If you have hypertension, reduce your salt intake for two weeks and do nothing else (you’re probably already doing this). See if that brings down your blood pressure significantly.  If not, eliminate all sugar intake in the form of refined sugar and refined carbs for two weeks.  See what happens. 

Please note there are some medical conditions that are can be exacerbated by increased salt intake such as kidney failure and congestive heart failure.  Consult your doctor if you have a serious medical condition. 

Sources of Salt

Of course not all salt is created equal.  Most Americans use processed salt which is stripped of trace minerals and full of anti-caking chemicals such as aluminum which make salt easier to sift.

God forbid we might have to use real salt that doesn’t come out of matching porcelain salt and pepper shakers.  Oh, the inconvenience.

Yes, Nature’s true salt, sea salt, forms clumps.  It is also offers a wonderful supply of trace minerals which the body needs for so many biochemical processes.

There are many healthy sources of sea salt in health food stores.   Many people have favorite brands for different reasons, in particular, Himalayan ses salt or Celtic sea salt.  But I like Redmond Real Salt which is mined from ancient sea beds in Utah.

Learn how and why sugar will raise your blood pressure. And learn why lowering salt in your diet can have adverse health consequences.

Click here to find Redmond sea salt on Amazon.

Finally, the last question I get from many people.

How much salt is too much salt?

Dr. David Brownstein, a holistic doctor who specializes in treating thyroid issues and the author of Salt Your Way to Health recommends at least a teaspoon per day of unrefined salt.

If you want to learn more on this subject then I’d highly recommend his fantastic book.

Learn how and why sugar will raise your blood pressure. And learn why lowering salt in your diet can have adverse health consequences.

Click here to check out Salt Your Way to Health on Amazon.

Of course, don’t discount your innate intelligence!   Innate intelligence communicates to you through your taste buds.  If you’re craving salt, salt your food.  You’ll know when you’ve overdone it.

Learn how and why sugar will raise your blood pressure. And learn why lowering salt in your diet can have adverse health consequences.

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  1. You know, it’s interesting… the last line made me think. I have been eating a carbohydrate reduced diet for about 6 weeks now – cold turkey – and in the last couple of weeks I have been craving salt and putting it on my food, something I have NEVER had the desire to do. Cool!

  2. How can I take this class?? Just what I’ve been looking for…

    • Hi Amy,

      Get at the Roots is a new program so it’s not very well known yet. If you’re in western MA you can sign up for my next class in January. I’m assuming you’re not around this area though. In that case, there are many Nutritional Therapists around the country who’ve started to teach it. Check out http://www.getattheroots.com for more info.

  3. I see the info. now, but don’t live anywhere near…any chance you have or might have an online class???

  4. Yes, somewhere in the future I plan on doing that but probably not anytime soon, unfortunately. You can contact the creator of the program, Nancy Rose, through the website and certainly recommend that. I’ve spoken to her about it and hope one day that it will be easier for more people to access online.


  5. No, I don’t live near either. I live quite rurally. I would love a way to follow online, by phone, something – at least some way to get started on my own. I KNOW I have some of the issues mentioned – adrenal, allergies, probably hormonal. I will try to contact Nancy Rose. And if anyone, in the meantime, has an alternative idea, I appreciate it. Thank you all! 🙂

  6. Hello, I discovered a black and bleeding sore on the inside of my mouth last year. I looked again thinking it may be food. It looked just like burnt red pepper, the 2 colours. I was in shock, thinking that’s it. I went immediately to a walk-in clinic, and got checked over, the doctor recommended anti-biotics to start and then took a sample for testing. I declined the anti-biotic recommendation, because I know they do nothing for me, but make me sicker. I said I will rinse my mouth with salt water. She said okay, come back in 10 days if you don’t get better. I did, I filled my mouth from time to time with salt water, and after 3 days, it disappeared. This is not the first time, other times, I get cold sores, on my lips and other parts of the body, and I immediately applied cotton wool soaked in salt water, they worked everytime. Once in a while, I take a bath with epsom salt.
    And something totally unrelated, I make my own hair wash and rinse. This came about when I received a bottle of fancy shampoo and body wash. I checked the names on the internet and discovered all the terrible chemicals that was being used that causes cancer.
    This is the recipe, real easy. For hair wash, in a squeeze bottle, add one tablespoon baking soda to one cup of water. Squeeze over hair, and massage as per normal, rinse. In 2nd bottle, 2 tablespoon white vinegar to one cup water, apply to hair after wash, massage 1 minute, rinse. If your hair becomes too dry, add more vinegar. If your hair becomes too greasy, use less vinegar.
    Also, use baking soda and very hot water to soak your dishes, and then sponge, brush and rinse.

  7. I saw an article recently about insulin levels and high blood pressure and on my own I cut sugar and salt then just sugar and found exactly like Craig said . Low sugar diet– blood pressure normal and salt did nothing up or down .

  8. I enjoy your site. Thank you for taking the time. I’ll return here to find out more and recommend my coworkers about your posting

  9. hey thanks!

  10. Zafar Khan says:

    This is exactly happening to me. When I eat any sweet thing my blood pressure goes up rightaway almost 25-30 mm Hg. Thank you Craig for nice article.

  11. Hi,

    I’ve been battling high blood pressure for a while know and my doctor always told me it was sodium and genetics. Looking at me you would never believe I have HBP because I’m 5’8″, 170 pounds, and I’m in very good shape. I currently take medication and never believed it solved the problem. Reading your article made a lot of sense to me because I did consume a lot of processed carbohydrates and sugars. I mean had a huge sweet tooth, could go through a pack of Oreos in less then one day. But, know that I want the six-pack back I once had in Basic Training, I’ve become more discipline and like to read a lot of articles on being truly healthy and not just appearing to be. So Craig Fear, I thank you for this article and welcome any other advice you have.

  12. Thanks for the information. I too believe sugar has a profound effect on my high blood pressure. Snacking before bed always raises it.
    Cereals with sugar are bad news for me. Even my frozen fruit bars have hidden sugars. I have changed my diet in a good way. Thank you so much for guiding me. Jeri

  13. Billie Swenson says:

    Normally, your blood glucose levels increase slightly after you eat. This increase causes your pancreas to release insulin so that your blood glucose levels do not get too high. Blood glucose levels that remain high over time can damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.:”’

    Pay a visit to our homepage too

  14. Arthur Gross says:

    I’ll turn 62 in five days and I’ve had hypertension throughout my adult life, but treated for only the past ten years. I’ve also been a sugar addict my entire life. I’ve made many meals of cookies, cake, ice cream, etc. I convinced myself the sugar was harmless because I managed to maintain a relatively normal weight. But reading recent articles about the health risks associated with refined sugar intake caused me to rethink my heavy sugar diet. In recent months I’ve managed to make a significant reduction in my sugar consumption, and surprisingly, after my annual physical last month my doc offered that I may want to try halving one of my hypertension meds. My BP has never dropped like that before so I had to wonder if the reduced sugar was the cause. I’m not a BP checker because it tends to make me worry more when I monitor my BP on a regular basis. So today I had a different Dr. app’mt and shazam, my BP was even lower. It was 110/70. I have to believe the reduced sugar intake has caused this drop in my BP and I am going to start halving one of my two BP meds. Craig is absolutely correct about the effect of sugar on BP.

  15. Hello, thank you so much for your posting. I have been wondering if sugar ad bread raises my blood pressure more than salt. Yes, now I am convinced. thank you

  16. I have a home blood pressure reader that I’ve been using several times a day and despite exercise and having a reasonable diet and weight my blood pressure was constantly 150/92ish. Despite eating healthy meals, I do snack a lot on sugar. I typically have 25+ Hershey’s kisses per day + a soda.

    To avoid going on medication, I’ve now been on the South Beach Diet for 4 days–no sugars, breads or fruits in the first stage. I’ve lost 5 pounds but more importantly I’ve taken the pressure many times in last 48 hours and I can’t get a reading above 132/81.

    So I may have a decision to make in the future. BP meds or chocolate…..

  17. I have chronic hypertension. I’m twenty-eight (28) years old. Without medication, my blood-pressure is a almost always 145/105. Anyway, considering my young age, and the fact that I’m a single parent to an autistic child (husband left for another woman), I’ve been desperate to try anything to get my blood pressure under control. I’m fairly active (hour + workouts 5 days a week) and my body fat percentage has always been well within the healthy. Blood tests all pointed to perfection in every way. …. I’ve experimented a LOT. Caffeine made almost no change in my BP. Salt made almost no change. What made a difference? Sugar and refined carbs. I’m talking a difference of 15+ in both systolic & diastolic, usually averaging a drop of 20 throughout the day.

    • Thanks for sharing, Barbara. Great testimonial. I hear stories like this ALL THE TIME.

    • Barbara, so great you got it under control! Question: do you eat any sugar at all? Like fruit/honey? I have elevated BP but I don’t eat any refined foods. Wondering if I need to cut out ALL sugar. Sigh…

  18. What about natural sugars? I follow a primarily Paleo diet, not too meat heavy but no grains except occasional white rice. My sources of sugar are fruit (berries and 1 banana daily in a smoothie), occasionally a little raw local honey, and dark (70-85%) chocolate. I don’t drink or smoke, I run and do yoga, 31, fit/thin. My BP tends to be 130+/80+, sometimes normal, sometimes spiking up to 145/90. What gives!? I do have a sweet tooth but I don’t eat processed treats. Maybe I’m just more sensitive? Do I need to cut out ALL sugar? With how healthy I am 95% of the time I feel like I should be able to indulge sometimes! I already do beyond what is recommended so I’m a bit frustrated and having a hard time finding information on this. Any help would be so appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Kiah, as far as my post goes I’m referring more towards chronic refined sugar consumption. From what you’ve described, it doesn’t sound like that would be the root reason of your high BP. Other possible causes from a dietary perspective are mineral deficiencies (potassium, magnesium, calcium), vitmain K2 deficiencies (grass-fed dairy products) and omega-3s (fish oil). Hope that helps a little.

  19. Hello there,
    I have been fighting Hypertension for years and the drugs didn’t seem to help ..Your are right the sugar is more deadly that the salt and salt is a natural nutrient..A few days ago i went on a sugar eating spree and my BP when up to 160/107.. Before i consumed all this sugar refined foods my BP was 121/81… I was raised on refined sugar foods and as you get older the pancreas starts to weaken and can’t handle all that sugar anymore..About 90% products in stores contain some form of sugar and yes this is why we americans are always sick and off balance..Sugar is our enemy …Final advice , listen to your body it iwill let you what your enemy foods are even though they taste as good as they look..

  20. Hi Craig; loved your article and I’ve found cutting our refined sugar and those nasty carbs really keeps my once chronic hypertension in check. It’s aweseome! Craig, what are your thoughts on the use of natural sweeteners like maple syrup, agave and honey?
    Many thanks, Barb

    • Hi Barb, I think good quality maple syrup and raw honey are OK in moderation as long as one is not dealing with metabolic issues. I’m not such a fan of agave though. It’s highly processed.

  21. Mike MacDonald says:

    2 Years, Four Doctors, 360mg daily of blood pressure medicine.
    1. Tried less salt, ate all the sugar I wanted, pasta, pizza etc…energy drinks
    still had to take pills, high tryglercides,etc.

    The Fix
    Started not eating carbs, No energy or soft drinks, very low amounts of sugar probably less than 20mg per day, No bread, pizza,pasta etc..
    Began eating fruit, fish, kidney beans,cheese, vegitables, 99% pure chocolate almost no sugar,water, tea, coffee no sugar

    Blood pressure from 145-55/ 90-2 with blood pressure medicne to 107/77 with no blood pressure medicine for last 5 mts


    I was on the Fasting of 9 days due to religious worship , and in all the day i eat only sugar product , like banana(5-6 daily) , milk, and other product .but without salt my BP moves around 130-140/90-95, but when i started salt and normal diet my BP 120-125/85-90

    SO is this due to intake of sugar

  23. What about “quality” carbs like Kashi cereal? Will eating a lot of non-junky cereal raise BP?

  24. Greetings! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and
    finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  25. Winfreda says:

    Here’s a conundrum. Have had benign essential hypertension since my 40’s, am now 71. BP has been under good control with a small amount of anti hypertensive and a bit of NACLrestriction. I am 5’5″ and weigh 98 lbs. so no need for weight loss. I am a vegetarian and eat no processed carbs. I was eating a refined sugar dessert every night until a year ago. Since then I have lost my ability to tolerate sweet things so am eating only who,e grains and not a lot of those. The result? I now have had to add a second anti hypertensive and my BP is higher than ever. When I eat a lot of salt, my BP is as high as 175/95. My legs swell up to my knees, as well. I have no doubt that your advice works for many but it clearly hasn’t worked for me, though I did the sugar restrictin on my own before I found your website. Any thoughts?

  26. David Yuen says:

    Salt affects blood pressure. Not sugar, but insulin that is released upon sugar ingestion affects blood pressure by diminishing the capability of our blood vessles to dilate when needed. Some people are salt sensitive in which kidney is not efficient in removing them. Retained salt = more retain fluid = more plasma volume. More blood volume will cause blood pressure to go up. Check your sodium level with the lab. Potassium helps body to excreteat sodium. High sodium intake makes the body excreted more calcium, which promotes kidney stones. Our refined food already has enough salt, why take more unless you are deficient according to blood test. Salt is salt, NaCl.


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