According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of sodium that adults of any age should eat is 2,300 milligrams. That’s the same as about 6 grams of table salt. However, the ideal limit — what we should all aim for — is actually a much lower 1,500 mg sodium/4 g salt per day. Some people are more sensitive to salt than others, so some doctors give people personalized diet recommendations.
Salt and Heart Health
Why does keeping salt levels down matter? The answer has to do with your heart. Salt absorbs extra water, so the more sodium in your blood, the higher your blood pressure. High blood pressure puts additional stress on your heart and can damage your arteries.
On the other hand, lowering your salt intake gives you a much lower risk of health issues:
This is why doctors recommend that people with a family history of heart disease or kidney problems be especially careful with salt.
Some products are consistently high in salt because of how they’re made. Anything with “salted” on the label obviously has a lot of sodium. The same thing goes for foods in brine, such as olives, pickles and capers. Here’s how much salt some popular food items have (prepare to be shocked):
Bacon: Just three slices of bacon (35 g) have almost 1.5 g of salt. That’s over 4 g per 100 g serving!
Cheese: Each slice of American cheese contains a whopping 1.5 g of salt. Fortunately, there are low-salt options, too, such as cottage cheese, Swiss and low-sodium mozzarella.
Pickles: One medium pickle (65 g) has almost 2 g salt. A large pickle can have double that.
Pizza: The next time you’re tempted to order a pizza, choose your toppings wisely. Between pepperoni, sausage, cheese, crust and pizza sauce, each slice of pizza can contain 8–10 g of salt. That’s way more than what you’re supposed to get in the whole day.
Burgers: There’s a reason doctors encourage you to eat homemade meals with fresh ingredients and eat out less. Many burgers from fast food restaurants have over 7 g salt, and some have a jaw-dropping 18 grams!
One thing that surprises many people is that bread often has a LOT of salt. I’m not just talking about biscuits, croissants and French bread. “Healthy” bagels, multigrain bread and whole-wheat bread can pack a lot of sodium in each slice. Freshly baked bread sold in supermarkets is almost universally high in salt.
Success With Sodium
Hitting the goal of 1,500 mg sodium a day is doable, but it requires good planning at the grocery store. Check labels carefully and don’t fall for the “serving size” tricks some manufacturers like to use. To make the amount of salt seem less, some brands list a serving of pickles as one-third of a pickle. Who eats one-third of a pickle?
Cooking at home makes it easier to control salt intake. All fresh fruit and veggies are naturally low in sodium, so include them abundantly. Using fresh garlic, herbs and spices is a great way to make tasty meals with less salt.