Heart Health

Salt shakedown: How and why you should eat less sodium

Follow the DASH diet, check food labels, and skip the saltshaker.

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

cropped photo showing a woman from the chin down holding out her hand to decline a salt shaker being offered to her at a resturant table

Sodium, an essential component of salt, plays many vital roles in the body. This mineral helps regulate blood volume, transmit nerve impulses, and contract muscle fibers, among other things. But we only need about 500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day to survive — and the average American consumes nearly seven times that much.

Health experts have been urging Americans to cut back on sodium for years. More than two decades ago, the landmark Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)–Sodium trial provided strong evidence that reducing sodium in the diet can lower blood pressure. Also, too much sodium can have other detrimental effects (see "How excess sodium can harm your health").

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About the Author

photo of Julie Corliss

Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Julie Corliss is the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter. Before working at Harvard, she was a medical writer and editor at HealthNews, a consumer newsletter affiliated with The New England Journal of Medicine. She … See Full Bio
View all posts by Julie Corliss

About the Reviewer

photo of Christopher P. Cannon, MD

Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Christopher P. Cannon is editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. He is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior physician in the Preventive Cardiology section of the Cardiovascular Division at … See Full Bio
View all posts by Christopher P. Cannon, MD

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