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Oct 03, 2016

Study Confirms Benefits of Limiting Sodium Intake

Lowering salt intake remains an important lifestyle change for adults with elevated blood pressure, confirms study.

Limiting salt intake remains an important lifestyle change for adults with elevated blood pressure, based on a recent study confirming the link between high salt intake and increased risk of death.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at the impact of salt intake on mortality risk in adults with elevated blood pressure. It’s well established that too much salt can have a negative impact on health, increasing risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. As a result, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone over the age of two limit salt intake to less than 2,300 mg/day. Guidelines also recommend that adults with higher cardiovascular risk, like those with heart disease, high blood pressure or adults over 51 further reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily. Experts hope that by reducing salt intake across the United States, we can help reduce risk for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans.

The problem, however, is that some studies suggest that restricting salt too much may also have negative effects on our health.  These findings have sparked much controversy around exactly how much salt Americans should be consuming.

To further investigate, researchers analyzed data from two phases of the Trials of Hypertension Prevention Follow-up Study. Conducted from 1987–1990 and 1990–1995, the study included more than 3,000 U.S. adults with elevated blood pressure between the ages of 30 and 54. Participants were followed for up to three years, during which time they provided multiple 24-hour urine samples to track sodium intake. With data from the National Death Index, researchers recently obtained mortality data on participants roughly 24 years later.

After more than two decades, researchers found that roughly 17% of study participants had died. However, analysis showed that the higher participants’ sodium intake was during the study period, the greater their 20-year mortality risk was. For example, adults consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day had significantly lower mortality risk than those with higher sodium intake. Overall, each 1,000 mg/day increase in sodium intake was associated with a 12% increase in mortality risk. Authors also note that having a low sodium intake was not associated with an increase in mortality risk, as some studies have found.

A major strength of this study, according to authors, is that sodium intake was assessed with urine samples during both trial phases. This is the “gold standard” when it comes to sodium assessment and is more reliable than dietary questionnaires, which are self-reported.

According to authors, findings confirm the benefits of limiting sodium intake in adults with elevated blood pressure. Findings also support current guidelines, which recommend limiting daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day to promote better health. With additional research, authors hope findings will help resolve controversy around sodium intake and provide clarity on dietary guidelines.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can too much salt be harmful to your health?

  • While some salt is necessary to maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body, too much salt causes the kidneys to retain water, which increases blood volume and pressure and puts a strain on the heart. These effects can cause hypertension and significantly harm those with pre-existing heart problems.
  • What can I do to reduce my sodium intake?
  • Most of the sodium you get each day comes from processed foods rather than salt you use in cooking and at the table. Here are some tips to help you shake the sodium out of your diet: 

    • Avoid prepared foods. High sodium foods include:

      • Salty snacks such as chips and pretzels
      • Canned soups and sauces
      • Cured meats such as bacon and ham
      • Foods packed in salt water such as pickles, olives, and canned tuna
      • Frozen pizzas and dinners
      • Fast food

    • Use fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include:

      • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt
      • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry rather than cooked or prepared items
      • Herbs and spices as seasoning instead than salt

    • Learn to read food labels.  Look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the label of packaged foods. This will tell you how much sodium is in the food.  When figuring out your sodium intake from the food label, keep in mind:

      • The milligrams (mg) listed is per serving. It is not for the whole package.  If you eat more or less than what they consider one serving, you’ll have to do the math to figure out how much sodium you are getting.

      • The percent of daily value (% DV) is based on 2400 mg a day, not the recommended 1500 mg. That means the sodium in a serving is a higher percent of your daily limit than what is listed on the label.

    • Choose carefully in restaurants. Restaurant food is high in sodium. Some ways to eat out and still keep your sodium level under control include:

      • Having your meal prepared without added salt
      • Asking that sauces, gravies, and salad dressings be served on the side
      • Selecting fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads and plain meats or fish from the menu

Featured Video

Processed foods are responsible for 75% of the excessive sodium consumed by Americans.

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