How Much Sodium Is Safe?

For years, we’ve been told that eating less salt can help prevent high blood pressure. But a recent study that made headlines and national evening news reports found that reducing sodium intake doesn’t have a big impact on blood pressure — and may even be risky. So what should you do? I checked with the leading experts for the lowdown.

Conclusions? Stay the course on salt. “It’s still prudent to avoid high salt intake,” says Theodore Kotchen, MD, chairman of the department of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and a member of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) nutrition committee. Here’s why:

  • Decades of evidence shows that high intakes of salt are associated with higher levels of blood pressure and increased risk of stroke and heart disease. So it’s still wise to avoid too much of it rather than change your habits based on a single study.
  • While a recent study found that salt restriction caused blood cholesterol (including “bad” LDL cholesterol) to rise, this occurred only in people who severely restricted their salt intake for a short time, often less than one week, says Dr. Kotchen.
  • Some people are more salt sensitive than others and are particularly prone to developing high blood pressure in response to too much salt. And, at present, there’s no test that can determine who’s salt sensitive and who isn’t.

How many grains?

The AHA recommends we keep our daily salt intake to 2,400 mg — that’s about 1 teaspoon. Since 75% of the salt we eat is contained in processed foods, be sure to read labels and purchase low-sodium products (whenever possible) advises Dr. Kotchen.

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