One side says everyone needs to cut back on salt to reduce heart disease risk. The other side says universal salt reduction would be a needless deprivation for many people. Which is correct? There isn't a simple answer.
In the most general terms, getting less sodium (the problematic component of salt) in the diet lowers blood pressure. But how sodium reduction affects an individual depends on his or her genes, age, and medical conditions, reports the November 2006 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.
In an effort to improve the health of everyone in the United States, organizations like the American Heart Association urge us all to cut back on salt. But there really isn't a one-size-fits-all recommendation for daily sodium intake. If you are under age 50, your blood pressure is in a healthy range, and your health is good, you probably have little reason to worry about salt intake. A lower-sodium diet is good for people who are older, who are of African American descent, or who have high blood pressure or diabetes. These folks should limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300-2,400 mg a day. People with heart failure or kidney disease are advised to keep their sodium intake under 2,000 mg a day.
Most people get three-quarters of their daily salt from prepared or processed food. The Harvard Heart Letter offers some basic tips to help you cut back on salt:
• Read food labels and choose low-sodium foods.
• Limit use of canned, processed, and frozen foods.
• Ask about salt usage when eating out.
• Cook with herbs and spices instead of salt.