Even smallest changes in salt intake can pay off big

By Michelle Anderson • Published: May 19th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As a country, some of our favorite things involve salt: Piping hot French fries. Settling in at the movies with a bag of popcorn. And what’s a baseball game without a sack of salted peanuts?

But doctors say trimming our sodium intake… even by a barely noticeable amount… could result in a much healthier nation.

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Columbia University suggest that instead of cutting back, the trend has been for Americans to consume even more sodium.

Health officials suggest no more than twenty-three hundred milligrams of sodium a day for most people, and no more than fifteen-hundred milligrams for people over age forty, African-Americans and those with high blood pressure.

Reducing daily dietary salt by three grams… that’s about a half-teaspoon… would mean sixty-thousand fewer new cases of heart disease each year, thirty-two thousand fewer strokes and fifty-four thousand fewer heart attacks. It would mean forty-four thousand fewer deaths from any cause, the researchers said.

For our heart health, altering our dietary salt intake as a country would be akin to population-wide reductions in tobacco use, obesity or lowering our collective cholesterol levels.

A federal campaign to curb Americans’ obsession with the salty stuff would pay off in more ways than just fewer illnesses and deaths, the researchers noted. For every dollar spent curbing sodium intake, the government coffers would see between six and twelve dollars saved in health care costs.

So put down the salt shaker. But even more important: Read those nutritional labels.