Don't Let Salt Sneak Up On You

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine adds important evidence to a larger recent discussion about how much sodium people should consume and what kind of impact that has on health, said American Heart Association President Elliott Antman, M.D

Excessive sodium consumption is having a dire impact on global health, killing about 1.65 million people every year, according to a new study.

The research published in the New England Journal of Medicine adds important evidence to a larger recent discussion about how much sodium people should consume and what kind of impact that has on health, said American Heart Association President Elliott Antman, M.D.

“We have new research indicating that the blood pressure effects of excess sodium can be directly related to cardiovascular disease risk,” said Antman, who is also a professor of medicine and Associate Dean for Clinical/ Translational Research at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This is a staggering finding.”

According to the study, about 1 in 10 cardiovascular deaths can be attributed to sodium intake of greater than 2,000 milligrams per day. “This is a level exceeded by 99.2 percent of the world’s adults, on average,” Antman said. “In the U.S., almost 57,600 annual cardiovascular deaths are attributed to sodium intake at this level.”

“Excess dietary sodium intake exacts a tremendous toll on our societies and economies around the world,” Antman said. “Now is a time for action, not hesitation.”

Clarifying Sodium

What’s the Problem?

Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function.

It may be an essential nutrient, but if you’re like most Americans you’re probably getting way more sodium than your body needs or that’s good for your heart.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for ideal heart health, but most Americans consume more than twice that much. Most people consume about 3,400 milligrams a day.

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total volume of blood inside. With more blood flowing through, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.


Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age, and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain.

If someone is sensitive to salt, this means increasing or decreasing their salt intake has a greater effect on their blood pressure (compared to someone who is not sensitive to salt). The effects of salt and sodium on blood pressure tend to be greater in blacks, people over 50, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. That’s about half the American population.


“Excess dietary sodium intake exacts a tremendous toll on our societies and economies around the world. Now is a time for action, not hesitation” — American Heart Association President Elliott Antman, M.D.

Common Misconception

The biggest contributor to our sodium consumption is not the salt shaker. Approximately 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from sodium added to processed foods and restaurant foods. This makes it hard for people to choose foods with less sodium and to limit how much sodium they are eating because it is already added to their food before they buy it.

That’s just one of several good reasons to make reading nutrition labels a habit. Before you buy that frozen dinner or pizza, that canned soup or that boxed stovetop meal mix, take a good look at the amount of sodium per serving and decide if it’s really worth that much of your daily sodium budget.

Sodium Content on Nutrition Labels

You can find the amount of sodium in packaged food by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. The amount of sodium per serving is listed in milligrams. The sodium content of packaged and prepared foods can vary widely. Compare the sodium content of similar products and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium you can find.

Understanding sodium-related terms on food packages:

SODIUM-FREE: Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride

VERY LOW SODIUM: 35 milligrams or less per serving

LOW-SODIUM: 140 milligrams or less per serving

REDUCED (or less) SODIUM: At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level

LIGHT (for sodium-reduced products): If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

LIGHT IN SODIUM: If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Food labels cannot claim a product is “healthy” if it has more than 480 mg of sodium per labeled serving (for individual foods) or more than 600 mg of sodium per labeled serving for meals/main dishes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A key point is that different brands and restaurant versions of the same kinds of foods can vary widely in sodium content. Compare nutrition labels and choose products with the lowest amount of sodium per serving. You can also look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark at grocery stores and some restaurants to find foods that can be part of an overall healthy diet.

You can also read the ingredient list to identify sources of sodium in your food. Watch for the words “soda” (referring to sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda) and “sodium” (including sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate [MSG] and sodium benzoate).

Once you start to recognize these terms, you’ll see that there is sodium in many foods – even those that don’t taste very salty.

Salt and Sodium

Common table salt is sodium chloride, which is approximately 40 percent sodium by weight. About 90 percent of Americans’ sodium intake comes from salt, whether in processed food or added at the table. Understanding just how much sodium is in salt can help you take measures to control how much you’re taking in.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt:

¼ teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium

½ teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium

¾ teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium

1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Stroke Connection. Get the app for free.


- Advertisement -

This link is provided for convenience only and is not an endorsement or recommendation of either the linked-to entity or any product or service.

AD. Amramp Making Life Accessible. 20 years. Be accessible to everyone. Protect your clients & their caregivers from slip and fall accidents. 888-715-7599. Click here for more info.

AD: American Stroke Association-American Heart Association logo. Did you know that about 1 in 4 stroke survivors have a second stroke? Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association logo. American Diabetes Associaiton logo. Know diabetes by heart logo. Living with diabetes? Inspire others. Submit story button.


AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control.  Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association Support Network. Facing recovery after a stroke or heart disease diagnosis can be overwhelming. You are not alone. Our community is here for you. Join us today.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!