Should You Hold the Salt? How Salt Intake Can Affect Blood Pressure, Strokes, Cardiovascular Diseases

Sandra Gurvis
A couple cook a meal together at home

How much sodium should I have in a day?

Salt intake of less than 5 grams per day for adults helps to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack, according to the World Health Organization. That means you should limit your salt to about a teaspoon per day, which includes about 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

The FDA concurs when it comes to a low-salt diet, suggesting a sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams is ideal. “The food supply contains too much sodium and Americans who want to consume less… can have a difficult time doing so,” says the FDA website. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is about 1.5 teaspoons of salt.

The American Heart Association hints that salt intake should go even lower. “One estimate suggested that if the U.S. population dropped its sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, overall blood pressure could decrease by 25.6 percent. … Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce cardiovascular deaths by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next decade,” the AHA reports.

Not everyone agrees, though. The medical journal Lancet reported in 2018 that people in societies that consumed less than 2.5 teaspoons of salt, which includes a maximum of 5 grams (5,800 milligrams) of sodium a day, isn’t enough to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

And then there are those concerned with sodium deficiency, who point to the fact that a good balance of sodium is helpful to hormonal systems and neural circuits. A study of “salt hunger” in Pflügers Archive - European Journal of Physiology in 2015 warned of the dangers of sodium deficiency, including impaired cognition, fatigue and inability to experience pleasure, along with “motivational processes that elicit a craving for salty substances and a state of reward when salty foods are consumed.”

Salt if You Must, But Season with Reason

Given the amount of sodium in packaged, canned and otherwise prepared foods, it’s easy for salt intake to soar beyond recommended limits without your even realizing it. Here are some tips to help:

  • Prepare your own food when you can: limit packaged sauces, mixes and instant products.
  • Limit the amount of table salt you add to foods when cooking, baking or when seasoning your own recipes. Also limit specialty salts, such as Himalayan, kosher and sea salt. (Fancy salts are still salt.)
  • Instead of adding salt, add no-salt seasoning blends, herbs and spices.
  • Buy fresh foods rather than those already processed. Check fresh meat and poultry packaging for sodium additives. Buy fresh, frozen or low sodium vegetables and broths.
  • Rinse sodium-containing canned foods such as beans, tuna and vegetables prior to cooking them.
  • Choose low sodium or no-salt nuts, seeds and other snacks.
  • Choose light or reduced sodium condiments. (Vinegar and oil added to salads is much healthier than bottled dressings.)
  • Read the Nutrition Facts labels on food packages. The FDA’s recommended daily intake is 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. So, if the label says a serving contains 10 percent of the daily value—a term used to describe the daily intake—then each serving would include 230 milligrams, which translates into about one-tenth of a teaspoon of salt.

Adapted from the FDA’s “10 Easy Tips for Reducing Sodium Consumption” and Healthline.com.

This story is from the 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly Health.