Experts disagree about how much salt you should eat (but you still probably eat too much)

Have you noticed how much sodium is recommended on your food label? For now, it says 2,400 milligrams, and it does not depend on the total calories you eat. In 2010, the American Heart Association reviewed research and recommended 2,300 milligrams a day — and very recently reduced the recommendation to 1,500 milligrams.

Dietitians and other medical professionals agree that Americans eat too much sodium — about 3,400 milligrams a day — but reducing the sodium recommendations to 1,500 milligrams a day was a shock to many people.

A report from the Institute of Medicine found that there is no known benefit and maybe some harm in consuming less than the recommended target of 2,300 milligrams a day. The American Heart Association disagrees, calling the IOM report incomplete.

While the experts keep throwing salt balls at each other, food labels haven’t been updated.

Why reduce sodium? High blood pressure.

The AHA reports that 90 percent of all Americans are expected to develop high blood pressure in their lifetime. High blood pressure adversely affects the heart, kidneys and blood vessels, which can be a core cause to heart attacks, kidney failure and strokes.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge most people ages 14–50 to limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams daily. Those ages 51 or older, African-Americans and people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease — groups that together make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population — are advised to follow an even stricter limit of 1,500 mg per day.

One question that dietitians often ask is: How low is low enough for sodium recommendations to avoid these long-term, later-in-life health problems? Has that study been done?

Another question: Is it possible to restrict sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day when you eat from the American food supply?

Dietitians are challenged with helping people understand how much sodium they eat and how to reduce it. The sodium in home cooking and added at the table is one factor, but larger amounts of sodium are found in restaurant foods and packaged, processed foods.

To help you understand what foods to avoid, the American Heart Association offers “The Salty Six” groups of foods.

Download the full Salty Six infographic as a PDF.

Salty Six

Knowing that 2,400 milligrams is a good place to aim for lowering your sodium intake, check labels to see how much your soup, frozen dinner or snack food contains. On the food label , you will see on the right-hand column the % Daily Value. The label does the math for you, telling you that one serving of this food item gives you a certain percentage of your total sodium goal for the day. Generally, if the % DV is below 20 percent, it is low, but above that, it’s a high-sodium food.

You can check the calories and sodium content of most fast food and chain restaurants online by visiting their website. Processed meats, convenience entrees, canned soups and other canned foods, powdered prepared mixes, salted snack foods, Chinese food with soy sauce and MSG, and seasonings like olives, pickles, vegetable salts ( garlic salt) and of course, the salt shaker, are all items to avoid.

Strive to eat foods that are basic, simple foods, like baked or grilled chicken, eggs, fish and meat ( not hot dogs, sausage or chicken nuggets), baked sweet or white potatoes, brown rice, fresh or steamed vegetables, fruits and olive oil, and salt-free nuts.