A new study contradicts the belief that eating a healthy, but salty diet, is alright. Even if you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, you may still suffer the negative effects of high salt consumption.

Processed foods are one of the main culprits for the extra salt in our meals.

It was previously thought that vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables affect blood vessels in a way that allows them to lower blood pressure, but this new research, which analyzed the diet and overall health of over 4,000 people, found that that’s not really the case.

An international team of researchers assessed concentrations of sodium and potassium in the urine samples of 4,680 people, aged 40-59, from the USA, UK, Japan, and China. The study participants were tracked over four days, during which they gave urine samples two times. Sodium is one of the two elements of salt and has been linked to increased blood pressure, while potassium, which is commonly found in legumes and vegetables, has been associated with a lower blood pressure. Researchers also tracked the volunteers’ intake of over 80 nutrients that may be linked to low blood pressure, including vitamin C, fibers, and omega-3 fatty acids.

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Researchers were expecting to find an inverse correlation between sodium and potassium, but they found that no matter how many fruits and veggies people ate, high salt intake was associated with high blood pressure; on average, an additional 7g (1.2 teaspoons) of salt above the average intake was associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure of 3.7 mmHg.

Dr. Queenie Chan, joint-lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at the Imperial College London, said that this can be extremely important, especially as high blood pressure affects between 16 and 37% of the population globally. A 2010 study found that hypertension is a factor in 18% of all deaths (9.4 million globally), with processed foods being one of the main culprits.

“We currently have a global epidemic of high salt intake – and high blood pressure. This research shows there are no cheats when it comes to reducing blood pressure. Having a low salt diet is key – even if your diet is otherwise healthy and balanced.”

“As a large amount of the salt in our diet comes from processed food, we are urging food manufacturers to take steps to reduce salt in their products,” she added.

However, researchers emphasize that they only tracked volunteers for four days, so they only recorded a snapshot of their lives. In the future, they plan to expand a similar study on a longer period of time, and with more participants.

Lifestyle changes can be extremely effective in reducing high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet and having an active lifestyle are extremely important in reducing sodium blood levels. Extra pounds and high blood pressure go hand in hand. Alcohol and cigarettes can also contribute to raising blood pressure.

The results have been published in the journal Hypertension.