Not salt-sensitive — How much salt is too much?

Dear Alice,

If you do not have salt-sensitive hypertension, do you need to worry about salt consumption levels? If so, what would be safe daily amounts?

Dear Reader,

Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, decreasing salt (sodium) consumption can greatly contribute to enhanced health for everyone — even if you don’t currently have salt-sensitive hypertension. Paying attention to your daily salt intake now can help you prevent high blood pressure in the future, as well as lower the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in those assigned female at birth, and help prevent calcium loss, which is excreted out in urine.

While increased salt consumption can lead to greater health risks, it’s good to know that everyone needs a small amount of salt to keep their bodies working properly. After all, salt helps regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses, and coordinate the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Currently, there is no established recommended dietary allowance for sodium. However, the U.S. Dietary Reference Intake has established two other guidelines for sodium intake: an Adequate Intake (AI) and Chronic Disease Risk Reduction (CDRR) Intake. The AI, which is 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day, is based on the lowest levels of sodium that allow for an adequate intake of foods that naturally contain sodium without causing a deficiency. The CDRR lists 2,300 mg a day as the maximum amount of sodium to consume to reduce risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. However, most Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium per day, almost 1,000 mg more than what is recommended.

It’s very easy to go above the daily recommended amount of salt without paying attention. While Americans are thought to be heavy-handed with the salt shaker, the truth is that the majority of salt in most people's diets comes from processed foods or eating out. Foods such as cold cuts, pizza, soups, cheese, fast foods, and snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn, all have high amounts of salt. In addition to processed foods, sodium also hides in some natural products such as vegetables, dairy products, shellfish, and a wide variety of foods that don’t typically taste salty. For example, one cup of low-fat milk has about 107 mg of sodium, while a slice of whole-wheat bread contains 132 mg.

If you're still concerned about the amount of salt to include in your diet, you may want to consider speaking to your health care provider or a registered dietitian. They can help you figure out the amount that most meets your body's needs. 

Last updated Oct 22, 2021
Originally published Apr 04, 1997

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