How much is too much sodium? Depends who you ask. According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — based on the latest evidence from reliable research studies — more than 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day may be harmful to your health. People with high blood pressure should not exceed 1500 mg of sodium daily according to these newest guidelines.
Other experts don’t necessarily agree, so what else is new? They point to studies that observed no direct link between higher intakes of sodium and a higher risk of heart attack. Furthermore, not everyone is sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effect of sodium; some people can eat tons of salt (well, maybe not that much) and their blood pressure stays normal.
We’re not off the hook yet, though. Excess sodium can damage the body in other ways, according to new evidence reviewed by experts at the University of Delaware. It can damage the lining of blood vessels and contribute to “hardening of the arteries.” Too much sodium can also weaken the heart and the kidneys, say researchers.
Additionally — especially for people with diabetes and high blood pressure — excess sodium puts the squeeze on blood flowing through arteries and can increase the risk for stroke and other types of heart disease.
So for the sake of our dear arteries, let’s say we want to cut back on sodium. Here’s what we need to know:
One teaspoon of salt contains 2300 mg of sodium — the current recommended daily limit. So less salt shaking is a good idea.
Most of the sodium we consume does not come from the salt shaker, however. Three-fourths of the sodium in our collective American diet comes from … ready? … restaurant meals and processed foods. (Processed foods are pretty much anything in a package.) Soups, sandwiches, chips, deli meats … it’s in there.
Start reading labels and compare the sodium content of your favorite foods. For reference, a food with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving is considered “low sodium” according to regulations.
Replace high sodium foods with those high in potassium. Experts say potassium-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and low-fat dairy products help counteract the harmful effects of excess sodium.
Don’t panic. Our taste for salt is an acquired taste; the more we use, the more we think we need. When we start to cut back, our taste buds adjust very nicely.
By the way, there is very little difference in sodium content between the popular sea salt varieties and regular table salt. Although sea salt may have trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, it is still salt — 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, and an author.