How Sodium Intake Affects Your Heart and Brain

You can cut your stroke risk dramatically by swapping out salt for alternative seasonings.

Salt Shaker (selective focus; close-up shot) on vintage background

Updated on February 9, 2022.

Wondering if you use too much salt and how much you should cut back? You may only need to cut your daily salt intake by a mere half-teaspoon to see a benefit to your heart and brain.

In a remarkable 2010 study published in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers estimated that cutting out just 1,200 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (or about 3 grams of salt, the amount in half a teaspoon) could prevent up to 99,000 heart attacks and 66,000 strokes a year.

The risks of unseen sodium

Sodium is a mineral found in table salt, which is also known as sodium chloride. It shows up in some other ingredients, too, like sodium bicarbonate (better known as baking soda) and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Your body needs a certain amount of sodium to stay healthy. But eating too much, as most Americans do, can raise your blood pressure and gradually worsen your health. That puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease, among other serious hazards.

Most people get the majority of their daily sodium intake—about 71 percent—from processed foods and restaurant meals. The number-one source of salt? Breads and rolls.

That’s right, many foods that don’t taste especially salty still contain a lot of sodium. Processed meats, pizza, and soup also pack a lot of salt.

Baked goods, whose ingredients typically include baking soda or baking powder in addition to salt, can also contain surprisingly high amounts of sodium. A seemingly innocent muffin, for instance, can pack well over 500 mg.

The average American eats over 3,400 mg of sodium a day—far more than what's recommended. Just one tablespoon of soy sauce can contain 1,000 mg.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That is about the amount of sodium found in one teaspoon of table salt.

Kick the salt habit

There’s no time like now to get serious about your sodium intake. When you fix more meals at home, you can enjoy food with less salt but more flavor.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium and Food Sources. Page last reviewed February 26, 2021.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sodium in Your Diet. Current as of June 8, 2021.
Mayo Clinic. Sodium: How to tame your salt habit. September 15, 2021.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Public Health Concerns: Salt and Sodium. The Nutrition Source. Accessed February 3, 2021.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Blueberry Muffin Battle. The Nutrition Source. Accessed February 3, 2021.
Bibbins-Domingo K, Chertow GM, Coxson PG, et al. Projected effect of dietary salt reductions on future cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2010;362(7):590-599.

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