Sodium Chloride (NaCl), also known as salt, is a naturally occurring compound that has been sought after by humans as far back as 6000 BC. One of the five basic taste sensations, salt is essential to the health of people and animals and is used universally as a seasoning. While it is sought after for its taste and use as a preservative, salt also is something that we need to consume in order to live healthy lives, because it is a part of so many of the chemicals that make up our body.

In the last decade or so, many food producers have introduced low-sodium or reduced-sodium versions of popular products, including soups, vegetables, fish, sauces, cereals, nuts, dips and even chips. But Americans still consume far too much sodium — a third more, on average, than the amount recommended for an otherwise healthy person and more than twice the amount recommended for people with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or kidney disease.

Health Risks: How Does Sodium Affect Your Health

Excessive sodium in the diet has many serious, and potentially dangerous, side effects. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure as well as fluid build-up in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis or kidney disease. These conditions make it especially hard for the kidneys to balance sodium levels.

Extra sodium also causes the body to retain water, increasing blood volume and causing the heart to work harder to move blood, placing more pressure on the arteries. Increased blood pressure can ultimately lead to heart disease, heart failure or stroke.

Live Healthier: Reducing Sodium Intake

Sodium is an essential dietary element, but 500 milligrams a day is all that is essential for good health. The average American, however, takes in about 3,300 milligrams daily — that’s 6 times the necessary intake. The dietary guidelines for Americans say that people should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (this is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt.

However, some groups — including people with diabetes, hypertension or chronic kidney disease, or adults ages 51 and older and African Americans — are recommended to consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or less.

In order to reduce your daily sodium intake follow these tips when choosing what to eat:

  • Avoid adding salt to your meals at the table
  • Minimize soy sauce in your meals
  • Choose fresh foods more often than canned foods or frozen ready-made vegetables
  • If using canned beans or vegetables choose sodium free or low sodium
  • Choose Swiss cheese instead of American cheese
  • Limit the amount of processed, cured and canned meats
  • Choose simple salad dressings such as balsamic vinaigrette
  • Use sodium-free seasoning

Taking control of your sodium intake is very important to your health, but you do not need to completely remove sodium from your diet. As with many other foods and essential nutrients, moderation is the key to maintaining a healthy body.