Heart Disease

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Shake the Salt Habit


Skipping salt can make a difference for your heart


By Meg Walker


Matters of the heart are rarely simple. Except this one: to lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack, cut back on salt. Despite evidence linking salt intake to serious cardiovascular issues, salt consumption among Americans has risen by 50% since the 1970s, and blood pressure has risen by nearly the same amount, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). On average, Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, about 1.5 teaspoons of salt, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Current US guidelines set an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day for adults, or the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of salt. But recommendations from the AHA set a stricter limit of 1,500 milligrams daily for people with high blood pressure, middle-aged and older adults, and African-Americans, who are particularly sensitive to the effects of salt. This is equal to the recommended adequate intake of sodium from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — the amount the average healthy person needs each day; people over 50 need even less, according to the IOM.

In 2010, the IOM even issued a report calling on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use its regulatory powers to state that sodium above a certain level in supermarket and restaurant foods should be declared unsafe. The FDA acknowledged Americans eat too much salt, which can have a serious effect on health. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the amount of sodium added to processed foods; however, it will continue to work with other federal agencies and the food industry on how to reduce sodium levels in the food supply. Currently, no safe limits yet apply. 

"We have a lot of work to do,'' says James Beckerman, MD, a cardiologist with Providence Heart & Vascular Institute in Portland, OR, and author of The Flex Diet. "We can make an impact on how much salt we use in cooking, but one of our choices should be to eat less processed food." 


Published on November 24, 2010. Updated March 24, 2016.


Reviewed by Shira R. Goldenholz, MD, MPH on April 1, 2016.