Blood pressure levels tend to increase with higher intakes of dietary sodium. By limiting sodium intake, you may be able to lower systolic blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg and in turn reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes. The effects of salt and sodium on blood pressure tend to be greater in African Americans, people over age 50 and those with hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease.

The average American consumes 4,000 mg of sodium each day, much more than the USDA’s recommended maximum amount of 2,300 mg daily if your blood pressure is normal, and 1,500 mg if you have hypertension, are age 51 or older, or are African American.

The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending a maximum of 1,500 mg daily for all adults and children. Salt added to foods during cooking and at the table makes up only about 10 percent of the sodium consumed in the American diet. A much larger portion comes from sodium in processed foods like

  • bakery goods
  • cold cuts
  • canned vegetables
  • meats
  • soups
  • frozen dinners
  • cheeses
  • salad dressings
  • snack foods
  • fast food

Thus, reducing salt intake means not only avoiding the salt shaker while cooking and at meals but also reading food labels and choosing foods that are low in sodium (less than 200 mg of sodium per serving).

Publication Review By: Lawrence Appel, M.D., and Rafael H. Llinas, M.D.

Published: 15 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 15 Jul 2013