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Heart-healthy eating with reduced salt

Woman stirring a pot on a stove while sharing a laugh with a girl.

Feb. 19, 2024—It's true that salt is essential to life. Unfortunately, 90% of adults and children eat too much of the sodium-rich mineral, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, says the American Heart Association.

How much salt is enough? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Adults and teens age 14 years and older: no more than 2,300 milligrams a day.
  • Children ages 9 to 13 years: no more than 1,800 milligrams a day.
  • Children ages 4 to 8 years: no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.
  • Children ages 1 to 3 years: no more than 1,200 milligrams a day.

Limiting yourself to about 1,500 milligrams each day could decrease your blood pressure by more than 25%.

Sodium-reduction strategies

  1. Avoid processed and prepared foods. More than 70% of the sodium in our diets comes from packaged, prepared or restaurant foods like pizza, cold cuts, soups, fried foods, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, salty snacks and even bread.
  2. Read the label. The Nutrition Facts list can help. Seek out foods with a 5% Daily Value (DV) or less. Avoid the ones with 20% DV or more—that's just too much.
  3. Choose a world of flavor over salt. Cooking at home lets you enjoy fresh and dried herbs and spices. Sprinkle them on lean proteins and vegetables and in soups and stews. Go Italian with basil, oregano and garlic powder. Travel south-of-the-border with cumin, chili powder, onion and oregano. Savor the south of France with parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme.
  4. Buy no-salt or low-sodium groceries. Search for reduced-sodium condiments, sauces, salad dressings and snacks, but eat them sparingly. No-salt potato chips and nuts have a satisfying crunch. Rinse canned goods like beans to reduce salt even more.
  5. Speak up when you eat out. At restaurants, ask for your meal to be made without extra salt. Request sauces, gravies and dressings on the side, and use them sparingly. Look for steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted options. Then, eat half your meal and take the rest home.
  6. Get inspiration from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. This way of eating limits fats, sugars and foods that are high in sodium and instead emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, fish, lean meats and poultry. Developed decades ago by researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it is scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure.

Good news

Once people reduce their salt intake, studies show that tastebuds adapt. You can savor the food's natural flavors and improve your health, to boot.

Get more tips for cutting back on sodium here.


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