- Researchers report that lower salt intake by as little as 1 gram per day can reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Experts say reducing daily salt consumption can be difficult, but you can start by eating fewer restaurant and processed foods and instead buying lean meats, whole foods, and foods high in potassium.
- They also suggest using alternative seasonings such as turmeric and oregano.
The researchers noted that China has one of the highest daily salt intakes in the world with an average consumption of 11 grams per day – more than twice the amount of daily salt the Chinese government recommends. About 40 percent of all deaths in the country are associated with or because of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers looked at data to see how reducing daily salt consumption would affect health. They analyzed data in three ways:
- Salt reduction of 1 gram per day within the first year
- Reducing salt intake by 30 percent by 2025, equivalent to a gradual reduction of 3.2 grams per day
- Reducing salt intake to less than 5 grams per day by 2030
The scientists hypothesized that the systolic blood pressure (the higher number) would drop. They said the results showed they were right.
The findings include:
- Reducing salt intake by 1 gram per day could lower the average systolic blood pressure by 1.2 mm/Hg and prevent 9 million cardiovascular disease events and stroke cases by 2030. The researchers estimate that 4 million of these cases would have been fatal.
- In another 10 years, the researchers said, 13 million cases would be avoided, of which an estimated 6 million would have been fatal.
- A reduction of 3.2 grams per day, continued for an additional five years, could prevent 14 million heart attacks or strokes, with an estimated 6 million of those being fatal.
- If salt reduction continued until 2040, there would be a cumulative reduction of 27 million heart attacks or strokes, potentially stopping 12 million fatal cardiovascular events.
The researchers reported that the benefits of lowering salt intake would apply to people of all ages. Other potential (but not tracked) benefits of reducing salt intake include reductions in chronic kidney disease and stomach cancer.
“While this study focused on the salt intake in China, the benefits of salt reduction in an American diet are well established,” Dr. Jeffrey Tyler, a cardiologist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in California, told Healthline. “People who are middle or older age, diabetic, with kidney disease… benefit, even more, when reducing salt intake.”
People in the United States consume about 3.4 grams of salt per day. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 2.3 grams a day of salt and the American Heart Society recommends lowering salt intake to less than 1.5 grams per day.
How this applies in the United States
“Diet is the foundation for elevated blood pressure and risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases,” says Tyler. “We know from studies that a diet with vegetables, fruit, legumes, and low-fat dairy will lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension.”
Experts estimate that 90 percent of the U.S. population consumes too much sodium.
“Now we know that any sodium consumption greater than [2.3 grams] per day is excessive,” Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told Healthline. “And some people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or stroke, would likely benefit from an even lower dose of 1,800 milligrams per day. That is quite a reduction from the current average adult American diet: [3.4 grams] of sodium per day.”
According to the American Heart Association, excess salt consumption increases your risk for:
- Enlarged heart muscle
- Kidney disease
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Kidney stones
- Stomach cancer
- Water retention that can lead to puffiness, bloating, and weight gain
A 2021 study reported that a decrease in salt consumption was beneficial to even those with low sodium intake and normal blood pressure.
Those researchers looked at 85 studies that followed participants from 4 weeks to 3 years. They found that both the systolic and diastolic numbers decreased. They noted that consuming less than 1.5 grams of sodium per day further lowers blood pressure.
The researchers said their study shows that people who reduce sodium intake by eating a healthier diet could significantly improve cardiovascular health.
How to reduce salt intake
Reducing salt isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“I think following a lower sodium diet is one of the hardest dietary changes to follow,” says Liz Weinandy, MPH, RDN, LD, a registered dietician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“Almost 100 percent of restaurant food and highly processed foods are high in sodium,” Weinandy told Healthline. “The ones which aren’t high in sodium are usually high in sugar. The difficulty is finding foods lower in sodium that may be quick to make. It almost forces people to be cooking foods from scratch or buy special lower sodium ingredients to make meals. It is not impossible, but it takes more time and planning. The problem is our taste buds get used to foods being higher in sodium and then when we cut down, foods taste bland and less appealing.”
The American Heart Association indicates that more than 70 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed and restaurant food. Only about 11 percent comes from food prepared and cooked at home.
The first step, therefore, is to eat a low-sodium diet by preparing and eating fresh food more often where you can control the amount of salt you use.
Other ways to reduce salt intake include:
Buy fresh foods
Pre-packaged foods such as canned vegetables or fruit, snacks, frozen meats or fish, and ready-to-make meals often contain added sodium for preservation.
Experts say it is always better to buy the fresh option of these foods whenever possible.
Read labels to track sodium
The human body does need some sodium to survive.
While many people track other nutritional factors such as calories or fat, most people don’t track sodium.
Experts recommend starting by reading the labels of the food you are eating and tracking sodium for a week to get a baseline, then try to reduce your intake from there.
Get rid of the obvious culprits
Foods such as chips, popcorn, packaged snacks, and certain condiments like ketchup or barbeque sauce are known to be high in sodium
It can be helpful when you are first starting to cut back on sodium to eliminate these foods.
Spice it up at home
Eating at home allows you to control the amount of salt you put in your food and oftentimes is the better option.
You can also try to flavor your foods with other spices such as turmeric, cayenne, ginger, oregano, or even alternatives like unsalted butter.
These provide flavor while helping you cut back on sodium.
Add potassium-rich foods to your diet
Potassium and sodium often work together to keep a proper fluid balance in the body, which means that high-potassium foods can be helpful to include in your diet, especially as you start to eat less and less salt.
Examples of potassium-rich foods include bananas, avocados, and mushrooms.
Organic and whole foods
Along with selecting fresh options, try to stick with whole foods and shop organic whenever possible to avoid high sodium content as well as preservatives that can be harmful to your health.
Leans meats and fatty fish
Most of the popular processed meats are high in sodium.
Instead of eating ham, cold cuts, hot dogs, sausage, or other processed meats, experts recommend trying to include more poultry, turkey, and fatty fish such as salmon or cod in your diet as these options typically have less salt.
Sauces on the side
If you are going out to eat or even planning a dish at home, put any condiments, sauces, or dressings on the side.
This can help moderate their use during meals.
It can be hard to get rid of our favorite foods, even if we are cutting back on salt.
There are a variety of online tools available to help you compare the foods you are eating and find low-sodium alternatives.
Sometimes working with a medical professional, such as a dietician, to understand your eating habits and develop a plan to reduce sodium intake can be a helpful solution.