October 15, 2020

How Does Salt Affect Heart Health?

The scoop on low-sodium diets

Salt and your heart

Forget the sweet tooth. Sometimes, your tongue craves something savory like a salty pile of pretzels or chips. But you’ve also heard too much salt (or sodium) can be bad for the heart.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

So, then, how much salt is too much? And why does it matter? Cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD, answers your saltiest questions and gives us the low-down on sodium, your heart and your health.

Salt and your heart

Sodium is a mineral that we all need. It plays a role in the healthy function of nerves and muscles and helps keep your body’s fluid levels in proper balance.

But that fluid balance is delicate. “Too much sodium can cause fluid retention, which can increase blood pressure,” says Dr. Laffin. And high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

So keep tabs on your sodium, especially if you have high blood pressure or heart disease or are at risk of developing them.

Sodium recommendations

How much sodium is too much? A little goes a long way, according to Dr. Laffin. Here’s what the guidelines say.

Advertisement

Recommended sodium guidelines

Aim to keep sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. “That’s equal to about 1 level teaspoon of salt,” Dr. Laffin says.

“Think about that 2,300 mg as a debit card you get every morning. Don’t spend it all in one place,” he adds. “And if you go over, you’ll pay interest — in the form of higher blood pressure.”

If you have high blood pressure

“Almost everyone with high blood pressure should be on a low-sodium diet,” Dr. Laffin says. That means capping daily sodium at 2,300 mg at the highest. “If you can get it down to less than 1,500 mg per day, that’s ideal,” he adds. Lowering blood pressure is an important way to reduce your risk of heart disease.

If you have heart failure

Doctors recommend that people with heart failure also eat a low-sodium diet. Too much salt can cause fluid to build up around the heart and lungs, making the heart work harder.

Evidence suggests that a limit of 2,000 mg per day of sodium is a good goal for people with heart failure, especially if they also have high blood pressure. But there’s an important caveat. “Some data suggests very low levels of sodium may lead to worse outcomes in people with heart failure, so discuss sodium intake with your healthcare provider,” Dr. Laffin says.

Advertisement

Tips for cutting salt from your diet

Most people think of salt as the stuff that comes out of a shaker. But that makes up a surprisingly small fraction of the sodium in an average diet. Most of the sodium we swallow comes from prepared and packaged foods.

Dr. Laffin offers these strategies for keeping sodium levels in the healthy range:

  • Read labels: Check nutrition labels. Pantry staples like bread, canned soup and salad dressing often have a lot more sodium than you’d guess by tasting. Many other packaged foods can also be sneaky sources of sodium — even if they don’t taste particularly salty. But the numbers don’t lie.
  • Beware the deli counter: “Deli meats, sausages, pickles and even cheese can have a lot of salt,” Dr. Laffin says. So think twice before you order that sky-high club sandwich.
  • Get creative: Instead of letting salt do all the work, look to other spices and seasonings to give your meal some gusto. Try adding garlic, fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon to kick the flavors up a notch.
  • Be smart when dining out: Fear of sodium shouldn’t stop you from the occasional restaurant or takeout meal, Dr. Laffin says. But think about your choices ahead of time. Skip the soup or saucy pasta. Order fish or chicken and ask them to prepare it with no salt. (You can add a bit to taste at the table.) “Even fast-food restaurants will prepare a no-salt burger or no-salt fries if you ask,” Dr. Laffin says. “People often don’t think to ask, but restaurants are usually happy to do it.”
  • Don’t be fooled by fancy salt: Some people think that sea salt or Himalayan salt is better for them than table salt. “When it comes to sodium, they affect blood pressure in the same way,” Dr. Laffin says.

Reading labels and tweaking your diet might sound daunting. But like anything else, it gets easier with practice. It’s a habit your heart will thank you for.

Related Articles

Cholesterol blocking blood flow in artery
February 26, 2024
What It Means if You Have ‘Sticky’ Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol and lipoprotein (a) cholesterol are more likely to stick to your arteries and lead to dangerous heart events

Doctor shaking hands with patient, with large heart and EKG line behind them
February 19, 2024
How Weight Affects Your Heart

Having underweight, having overweight and having obesity can be dangerous for your heart

Close up of hands holding heart rate wearable watch monitor and their phone
February 12, 2024
Next Time You Exercise, Consider Wearing a Heart Rate Monitor

This technology can benefit your workouts by helping you hit your target heart rate, resulting in better overall health and wellness

seated doctor and female in doctor office, with female's hand on heart, with daughter
February 8, 2024
Here’s When You Should Go to the Hospital for a Dangerous Heart Rate

A resting heart rate below 35–40 beats per minute or over 100 beats per minute may be cause for concern

healthcare provider speaking with older female in office
February 6, 2024
How Estrogen Supports Heart Health

Your natural estrogen levels support a healthy heart by improving your cholesterol, increasing blood flow and reducing free radicals

Flaxseed sprinkled on a salad in a white bowl on a dark wooden table
January 31, 2024
Flaxseed: A Little Seed With Big Health Benefits

Ground flaxseed is full of heart-healthy omega-3s, antioxidants and fiber, and easy to add to just about any recipe

Older male in doctor's office with doctor holding tablet showing heart statistics
January 31, 2024
Extra Heartbeats: Should You Be Worried?

They’re rarely cause for concern, but you should still talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms

Older male in helmet biking on forest trails
January 17, 2024
What Does ‘Moderate-Intensity Exercise’ Mean Anyway?

From gardening to walking for 30 or more minutes, you want to get your heart rate up 50% to 60%

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad