09/10/2012 06:17 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Stress, Fried Foods Contribute Equally To High Blood Pressure, Study Shows

It's well known that stress and fried foods are amongst the causes of hypertension, but which one poses the greater risk?

According to Dr. Gregory Harshfield, a hypertension researcher at the Institute of Public and Preventive Health at Georgia Health Sciences University, both stress and fried foods contribute equally to high blood pressure, a finding he uncovered in a study of young adults participating in National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute research on how the body regulates blood pressure in response to stress.

When stressed, Dr. Harshfield found that roughly 30 percent of blacks hold onto too much sodium (about 160 milligrams worth), the equivalent of eating a small order of fast food French fries or a small bag of potato chips.

Researchers estimate that this response to stress can add about 500 milligrams of sodium to your daily sodium intake over the course of the day (and even into the night, when blood pressure readings are considered to be the truest since they should not be impacted by stress), making it easy to surpass the Institute of Medicine's recommended 1,500 to 2,300 milligram limit.

"Everybody knows stress is bad for you and everybody has the perception that a high-salt diet is bad for you, and both are particularly bad for these individuals," said Harshfield in a release. "Every time they are stressed, they hold onto as much salt as you get eating a small order of French fries and this can occur many times over the course of even a good day."

A report released by the CDC last week showed that some 67 million adults in the U.S. -- about one in three -- have high blood pressure, 36 million of which don't have their condition under control.

For African Americans, the findings are even more of a concern. In a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine in June, researchers found that nine in ten African-American patients with hypertension also suffered hidden heart disease caused by high blood pressure, even though they exhibited no symptomatic signs of the disease.

While the researchers in that study hoped to prompt physicians to detect incipient heart disease early and to take steps to treat it before it escalates into a full-blown health emergency, Harshfield and his team favor a similarly proactive approach.

According to Harshfield, the dangerous sodium load can be lifted with angiotensin receptor blockers, a common blood pressure treatment, which is rarely used in blacks though some -- specifically those with a tendency to retain sodium -- have been known to carry an angiotensin receptor gene that exacerbates problems with sodium handling.

In addition to medicinal treatment, Harshfield says a truly low-salt diet likely would be beneficial as well, which means cutting down on processed and restaurant foods and the ten biggest sources of salt highlighted in the slideshow below.