Salt and Stroke: Even a Little Might Be Too Much

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal could have you shaking the salt habit. According to the study, which examined the results of 13 studies involving more than 170,000 people over 12 years, consuming just an extra teaspoon of salt a day increases a person's risk of suffering a stroke by 23 percent and the risk of developing heart disease by 17 percent. That translates to more than 10,000 heart attacks and strokes directly attributed to excess salt consumption, said researchers. What's more, lead author of the study, Pasquale Strazzullo of the University of Naples in Italy, estimated that if people worldwide limited their salt intake to no more than five grams a day-one teaspoon-as many as three million deaths from cardiovascular disease and 250,000 deaths from stoke could be averted each year.

The World Health Organization recommends that people consume just five grams of salt per day, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the daily intake be limited to 5.8 grams. On average, Americans consume about ten grams of salt every day, or two teaspoons.

Quitting the Salt Habit

Although Americans have developed a taste for a high salt diet, there are steps you can take to break the habit and reduce your risk for high blood pressure. One way you can control your salt intake is to avoid adding salt to your meals. Limiting the amount of processed and packaged foods you eat, which contains high amounts of sodium, can help too. Because sodium holds excess fluid in the body, placing an added strain on your heart, reducing the amount of sodium you consume can help lower your blood pressure or prevent it from developing in the first place.

If your blood pressure is 120/80 Hg or higher, talk to you doctor about how a low- or no-salt diet can help you bring it down. Keep in mind that sodium chloride, or table salt, is approximately 40 percent sodium. According to the American Heart Association, aim to eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium (one teaspoon of salt) per day. African-Americans, middle age and older adults and people with high blood pressure should strive for less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

You can unlearn your craving for salt by adding naturally low-salt foods into your diet. Stick to fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (dried beans, lentils, split peas) over processed and fast foods. Using salt-free herbs and spices in your meals in place of salt will give you the taste you want without the sodium.