Easy Ways to Cut Back on Sodium

Easy Ways to Cut Back on Sodium
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Salt. It helps make food taste good, and your body needs sodium to function properly. But we also know that the consumption of too much sodium is bad for your health: It has long been associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and water retention. So how much salt should you eat? Depends on whom you ask, and who's asking.

The most recent federal government Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) advises that people ages 14 to 50 consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day (with lower age-based guidelines for children 13 and under). For those 51 and older, and for people of any age who are African-American or who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease—and that accounts for about half of the U.S. population and most adults—the recommended amount drops to just 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The federal guidelines let us off easy compared to the American Heart Association (AHA), which recommends that nobody exceeds 1,500 mg (a little more than a 1/2 teaspoon) of sodium per day. On the flip side, a much-quoted May 2013 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on reduced sodium intake and its health consequences made headlines by questioning whether such a reduced-sodium diet was best, and even suggested possible harm of very-low-sodium diets for a small subset of people in the study.

With all the conflicting messages out there, it's no surprise that there might be some confusion about how much salt is safe to eat. The fact remains that most Americans consume about 3,400 mg (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) of sodium a day, an amount that is considered dangerously high by government, AHA, and IOM standards. In fact, in its findings press release, the IOM clearly states, "Recent studies that examine links between sodium consumption and health outcomes support recommendations to lower sodium intake from the very high levels some Americans consume now," though the studies did not conclude that going below 2,300 mg was beneficial.

Our takeaway: While how much to reduce our salt intake is an individual question best worked out with one's doctor, it's safe to say that the vast majority of us would do well to eliminate the extra sodium we're eating. It's worth repeating: Excess salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure and other serious health risks, and easing back on salt has other benefits, as well. "Excess sodium intake causes your body to retain water, putting an extra burden on your heart, kidneys, and blood vessels," says Deborah A. Renza, managing editor and contributor to the American Heart Association Eat Less Salt: An Easy Action Plan for Finding and Reducing the Sodium Hidden in Your Diet.

Check out the slideshow above for easy steps to help cut back on your sodium intake.

By: Megan O. Steintrager

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