Should You Be Eating Less Salt?

Close up of salt shakers on counter
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Obesity causes high blood pressure (also known by its medical term, “hypertension”), so it is helpful to know what you can do to manage your blood pressure—and that includes lifestyle changes. A lot of confusion and controversy seems to exist in the modern press these days regarding whether or not we need to cut back on sodium intake, and if so, by how much. Here’s a look at the real, hard science.

Skyrocketing Sodium Intake

With the advent of processed foods, average American sodium intake skyrocketed. In fact, it has been estimated that the average sodium intake per person in the United States is 3,478 milligrams per day. This is at least 1,000 milligrams per day more than what many well-respected scientific and professional health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommend for maximum daily intake.

Why Is This a Problem?

Excess sodium intake has been linked to the development of high blood pressure. High blood pressure, in turn, leads to heart disease and stroke. So lowering sodium intake is important even if you do not yet have high blood pressure because reducing your intake now could help you avoid high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in the future.

The American Heart Association estimates that reducing sodium intake by 1,200 milligrams per day would prevent between 44,000 and 92,00 deaths per year and save between $10 billion and $24 billion annually in healthcare costs.

And that’s just from cutting back on salt!

Which Foods Are the Saltiest?

The answer might surprise you. While you may think that most of your salt intake comes from your home salt shaker, in reality, most Americans get the majority of their sodium from packaged, highly processed, and restaurant  foods.

Here are some of the worst offenders:

  • Snack foods, such as chips, crackers, and pretzels
  • Canned foods, like canned beans and soups
  • Pickled foods
  • Cheese
  • Processed meats, like ham, bacon, corned beef, hot dogs, sausages and luncheon/deli meats
  • Frozen dinners
  • Processed or packaged fish that has been pre-breaded, pre-fried, smoked or canned in brine
  • Ketchup, mayonnaise, sauces and salad dressings
  • Most restaurant and fast-food meals

How to Lower Your Sodium Intake

By cutting back on the foods listed above and cooking at home whenever possible, you will automatically lower your average daily sodium intake. Additionally, you should be sure to rinse any canned foods you may use, as this helps remove some of the excess sodium; and try spices other than salt, such as herbs or vinegar, to add flavor to your food. Choose unsalted nuts and snacks, and eat whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.

When dining out, order salads and fresh greens (with any dressings on the side), and, whenever possible, request that the cooking staff go easy on—or hold—the salt.


Moss M. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Random House 2013.

Anderson CAM, Johnson RK, Kris-Etherton PM, Miller EA. Commentary on making sense of the science of sodium. Nutrition Today March/April 2015;50:66-71.

American Heart Association. Why should I limit sodium? Accessed online at  Accessed online on April 10, 2015.

American Heart Association Heart Blog. American Heart Association launches new sodium reduction campaign. Accessed online at on April 10, 2015.

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