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How to Shake the Salt Habit

Your body needs a certain amount of sodium. Sodium helps your body maintain normal nerve and muscle function as well as fluid balance.

But too much sodium, mostly consumed as salt, can spell trouble for your heart and health by placing added strain on your heart, blood vessels and kidneys as your body tries to get rid of any excess sodium. Consuming high levels of sodium has been linked to high blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure, you’re also more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, or develop kidney disease.

Most Americans eat too much salt. On average, they take in about 3,440 mg per day. That is nearly 50% more than the recommended limit. But lowering your sodium intake is good for your heart. 

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the average adult consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium—or about one teaspoon—over the course of a day.  An even lower daily limit of 1,500 milligrams a day is suggested for people who:

- Have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.
- Are 50 or older.
- Are African American; this population has higher rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. 

Alternatively, aiming to at least lower your sodium intake by at least 1,000 mg also can help. 

The good news is that you can take steps to keep tabs on and limit how much sodium you are eating. 

Sodium and Salt. What’s the Difference?

We often use salt and sodium as if they mean the same thing. But they aren’t quite the same.

Sodium exists in many forms. It’s naturally found in many foods, and it’s also added to processed foods during manufacturing.

Salt forms when sodium is combined with chloride. Sodium and chloride together create the crystal-type substance that fills our saltshakers and those in restaurant kitchens. However, most of the sodium in your diet is in prepared food, especially if foods are packaged or processed. The sodium is added during cooking before you even purchase it. 

“Losing or hiding the salt shaker is relatively a minor step. It’s the food, not the salt shaker.”—Keith Ferdinand, MD, FACC
MORE: 9 Ways to Cut Salt

MORE: Sodium in Some Popular Foods

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Last Reviewed: March 2019 | Medical Reviewer: Andrew Freeman MD, FACC
Originally Published: April 2018 | Medical Reviewer: Keith C. Ferdinand, MD, FACC
CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief: Martha Gulati, MD, FACC

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