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How much (or how little) salt do you need?

by Margery Gass | May 16, 2013
New research says there’s no good reason for most Americans to limit their total sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day (about a teaspoon) and for Americans at high risk of heart disease and stroke to 1,500 mg per day (about 1/2 teaspoon)—the levels now recommended by government guidelines.

However, the American Heart Association is still concerned about the large amount of salt in processed food. Most Americans actually get about 3,400 mg (about 1.5 teaspoons) of sodium per day, partially because of their intake of processed and prepackaged foods. These folks should still lower their intake.

For those at higher risk (people over 50, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease), cutting sodium intake is more important, but moderation is important—the Institute of Medicine points out that sodium intake must not be too low or it can actually increase risk of heart attack and health problems. Sodium is needed in the body to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers, and maintain balance of fluids.

What to do:
If you’re under 50 with normal blood pressure (under 120/80 mm Hg) and in good health, you probably don’t have to worry about sodium intake—around 2,300 mg per day is a safe amount for you.

If you are high risk, 1,500 mg per day remains a good limit. Just don’t go too low! Eat mostly fresh foods, watch the salt content of condiments, read labels, take care when eating in restaurants, and use nonsalty spices to liven up your meals.

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