Excessive salt consumption is not something to take with a grain of salt. A pinch here and there adds up to more than you’d imagine. With our attention fixed on low-fat, low-carb and other fad diets, even when something appears healthy ands slimming by all other standards, it could very well be overloaded with sodium. Sure, salt brings out flavor but it is also linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

There is no denying that sodium – mostly consumed in the form of salt – has a place in the human diet. In fact, bad reputation aside, the human body needs small amounts of it to survive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the human body requires between 180 and 500 milligrams per day of sodium to function properly. However, given our predilection for processed or packaged foods, as well as dining outside the familiarity of our own kitchen where we control what goes into meals, sodium finds sneaky, unobvious ways to get into just about everything. And you may be consuming more than you think.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the Department of Clinical and experimental Medicine at Federico II University in Naples, Italy, high salt intake was associated with a significant increase in the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. In the United States, more than half of people between the ages of 55 and 74 are affected with high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts people at risk for more serious heart-related illnesses. Each year, more than 800,000 people die from heart disease, stroke and other heart-related diseases in the U.S. In 2010, this cost the nation some $273 billion in health care.

This is no surprise, considering some 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended as part of a healthy diet. The average American currently consumes approximately 3,300 milligrams of sodium. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults limit their intake to 1,500 milligrams a day. Compared with the mere 180 to 500 milligrams of sodium our body actually needs, the difference between what we consume, what we’re told to consume and what we need to consume is telling enough: we eat too much sodium. Perhaps there is something to be said for the superstition throwing salt over your shoulder – it’s better than in your mouth!

Be conscious about how much salt you add to your food and what you order at restaurants, and be a stickler about reading ingredient and nutrition labels.

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