The trouble with excess salt

Sodium doesn't affect everyone equally, but there's good reason to stick to moderate amounts in your diet.

On average, Americans eat too much salt — more than a teaspoon and a half a day. Most often it doesn't come out of a shaker, but is hidden in the foods you eat. But is it really bad for your heart to eat too much, or is that just a concern for people with certain risk factors? There's been some debate on this topic, even among members of the scientific community. We asked Nancy Cook, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, for her thoughts on salt — or more precisely, sodium, a mineral that makes up 40% of salt — and how it affects your health and your heart.

Is salt really bad for your heart?

"There is a fairly undisputed effect of sodium on blood pressure," says Cook. The effect is stronger in people with high blood pressure (hypertension), a sustained blood pressure reading of 120/80 or higher. The data for an effect on cardiovascular disease are somewhat more controversial, she says, but in general, the bulk of research does seem to link lower sodium intake with both lower blood pressure and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

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