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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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It’s Time to Shake the Salt Habit

A new study finds that 95 percent of American adults eat too much salt.

French fries with salt.It is well-established that sodium, in the forms of salt and MSG, can contribute to high blood pressure, yet Americans are eating more salt than ever. Our culture of fast food and processed food is a major factor, since over 75 percent of the salt we eat comes from these types of foods. Lunch meat, bottled pasta sauces, and canned soups are also important offenders. Only 10 percent of the salt in our diets comes from the salt shaker.

In general, sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg daily. However, if you are over 51, are black, or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, you’re likely to be more sensitive to salt, and are better off with 1,500 mg daily or less. Yet a typical restaurant meal supplies anywhere from 2,300 to 4,600 mg of sodium.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated over 18,000 Americans between 2005 and 2008. Among adults, 95 percent of those whose target should have been 2,300 mg or less exceeded the daily recommendations, and 99.4 percent whose limit was 1,500 mg failed to meet the goal. The average person consumed about 3,500 mg of sodium each day.

Cutting back on salt could quickly save lives and reduce health care costs. The CDC estimates that by substantially reducing the amount of salt we eat, as many as 120,000 heart attacks and 66,000 strokes could be prevented each year. Put another way, a 10 percent reduction in salt intake across the board could reduce health care costs in the U.S. by $4 billion each year.

The CDC and other governmental agencies are working hard through the national Salt Reduction Initiative to partner with private industry to reduce the amount of added salt in the foods we consume. In the meantime, there are some simple steps you can take to limit salt in your diet.

  • Whenever possible, make your own meals using fresh ingredients.
  • Read the labels on canned goods and sauces, and choose products that are lower in sodium.
  • If you eat out, avoid French fries and other salty sides that are also loaded with fat.
  • Always ask for dressing or sauces on the side.
  • Don’t add extra salt to your food.

By making these simple changes, you will slowly but surely find that your taste buds become more sensitive to salt. Eventually, you will need much less to get that salty kick that your body naturally craves.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , Heart Attack , Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.