Next time you reach for the salt shaker, think twice. You could be risking your life. It’s a proven fact: High sodium intake increases blood pressure, putting you at risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.

In a 2010 study on sodium intake, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers concluded that 1.65 million deaths from cardiovascular causes that occurred in 2010 were attributed to sodium consumption (in excess of 2 grams per day). According to an article published in October 2010 by Harvard Medical School, the sodium in salt is responsible for more than 100,000 American deaths a year, about three times more than prostate cancer.

Excessive sodium consumption can lead to:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension). Sodium increases blood pressure because it makes your body retain fluids, which places an added burden on your heart.
  • Increased risk of kidney failure. Higher blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, since increased blood pressure puts an additional strain on the arteries leading to the kidneys.
  • Increased risk of heart disease. Multiple studies have shown that high sodium intake is directly linked to cardiovascular disease.
  • Increased risk of stroke. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke.

Most scientists agree that reducing dietary salt lowers blood pressure, cuts the risk of heart attack and stroke, and saves lives. Yet, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), most people consume about 3,400 milligrams (3.4 grams) of sodium a day – more than twice the ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams (1.5 grams) it recommends.

So, how do you go about reducing your salt intake?

  1. Put down the salt shaker. A good first step is to stop adding salt to your food. Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to foods. Cook pasta, rice and hot cereal without salt.
  2. Eat clean. According to the AHA, more than 75% of the sodium Americans eat comes from some processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods – not from the salt shaker. Shopping for and preparing your own meals at home is the best way to manage how much salt you consume. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store, where you’ll find fresh produce, meats, seafood and dairy. And avoid the center aisles, which house the packaged, processed and canned foods, which are often loaded with salt.
  3. Read labels. The amount of sodium per serving in packaged foods is listed on the Nutrition Facts label, in milligrams (mg). Check the ingredient list for words like sodium, salt and soda. The total sodium shown on the Nutrition Facts label includes the sodium from salt plus other sodium-containing ingredients, such as sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium benzoate. And don’t forget to note the serving size!

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