Most people with heart disease consume excessive amounts of sodium, study finds

  • A new study found that people with cardiovascular disease consumed double the amount of sodium per day than recommended.
  • Of people with heart disease, 89% consumed more than the recommended allowance of 1,500 mg per day.
  • Current recommendations for the maximum amount of sodium per day for people without heart disease is 2,300 mg, about the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt.
  • While it is difficult to know how much sodium one is actually consuming, there are various strategies for avoiding excess sodium.

Many people consume more than the daily recommended amount of sodium, particularly those who most need to reduce their intake for their heart health.

That’s according to a new study, which found that people with cardiovascular disease (CVD) were consuming more than double the recommended 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day.

The average amount of sodium consumed daily was 3,096 mg, with 89% of the study’s participants consuming more than the recommended amount.

The findings are being presented April 6–8 at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session. The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

People with heart disease should reduce sodium intake

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommendsTrusted Source adults who do not have or are not known to be at risk for heart disease consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This is about the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt.

The average person with heart disease in the present study exceeded that level by nearly 1,000 mg.

The study used data from 3,170 participants in the Center for Disease Control’s NHANESTrusted Source study. These sample included males and females older than 20 with a cardiovascular disease diagnosis.

Of this group, the majority were 65 or older, were white, and had an education level below high school graduate. Males, who accounted for slightly more than half of subjects (56.4%), were overweight with an average intake of 1,862 calories per day.

While overconsumption of sodium is often considered a result of fewer food choices, the study turns that hypothesis on its head.

The group with the greatest sodium intake were people at the higher end of the income scale and with a college degree or higher.

The study authors suggest that individuals with higher levels of education and income could have been better at reporting their sodium intake, which may have contributed to the surprising results.

What happens to the heart if you consume too much sodium?

The chemical name for table salt is sodium chloride. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral, which is necessary for human health in small amounts.

“Sodium helps to balance the water in your body,” explained cardiologist Jayne Morgan, MD, clinical director at the Piedmont Healthcare Corporation in Atlanta, GA. “It even supports the proper functioning of muscles and nerves.” (Dr. Morgan was not involved in the study.)

“There is a saying in medicine, ‘Where sodium goes, water follows,’” she told Medical News Today.

“This is why salt increases the blood volume in your bodies. The effect of this is an increase in blood pressure. The increased blood pressure then forces your heart to work harder, which then eventually puts you at risk of heart disease,” Dr. Morgan said.

Dr. Morgan noted that excess sodium has long been linked with the hardening and stiffening of the arteries and atherosclerosisTrusted Source.

Does the average person consume too much salt?

A significant body of researchTrusted Source has investigated why so many people crave salt.

“The consistent overconsumption of sodium across the socioeconomic spectrum suggests that factors beyond just access to resources may influence sodium intake,” Michelle Routhenstein, registered dietitian nutritionist at, told MNT. Routhenstein was not involved in the study.

Routhenstein proposed this could imply “widespread availability and marketing of convenient high-sodium processed foods, cultural dietary habits that prioritize salty foods, and limited awareness or education about the health risks associated with excessive sodium consumption.”

Morgan agreed, taking it a step further:

“This is a great testament to the pervasiveness of the Western diet and cravings for salt and ‘flavor’. It also is a reflection of the ease and availability of sodium in many grocery products, even when buying ‘healthy’ options.”

Dr. Morgan added that packaging and labeling is not easily understood by the average consumer.

She said the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), for instance, could “create a standard rating system for foods that everyone understands where that food choice is on a band spectrum of health. The consumer then can truly make an informed decision.”

How to reduce dietary sodium intake

Tracking salt intake is the first step to reducing sodium consumption, but it can be difficult to know how much sodium you’re actually consuming.

Many food products use sodium for reasons other than a salt flavorTrusted Source. It may be used in baking, thickening, curing meat, moisture retention, and as a preservative. Many foods high in sodium don’t taste salty at all.

“Without actively scrutinizing food labels and being attentive to sodium levels, people may inadvertently consume excessive amounts,” Routhenstein said.

“Individuals may not be aware of the sodium content in their meals even before considering the use of a salt shaker,” Routhenstein added. “For example, a typical restaurant meal can contain upwards of 2,000 mg or more of sodium, surpassing the recommended intake for individuals with heart disease.”

Routhenstein recommended the following tips for reducing sodium intake:

“To consume less dietary sodium, focus on cooking at home using fresh ingredients, choosing low-sodium options, using herbs and spices for flavor, reading labels, and being mindful of hidden sodium in processed foods. When dining out, individuals can make lower sodium, heart-healthier choices by asking for sauces and dressings on the side, opting for grilled or steamed options instead of fried ones, and requesting meals to be prepared without added salt.”

“These simple adjustments can significantly contribute to reducing overall sodium intake while [you’re] still enjoying delicious meals,” Routhenstein noted.

Dr. Morgan offered four simple principles to keep in mind:

Common substitutes for salt

Routhenstein suggested a number of ways to replace salt in food and still retain flavor, such as adding small amounts of lemon or grapefruit juices to recipes.

“The tangy taste of citrus fruits can trick taste buds into perceiving more saltiness than is actually present, allowing dishes to remain flavorful with reduced sodium content,” she said.

Additionally, Routhenstein advocated for spiciness, incorporating chili peppers or hot sauce to your dishes depending on your taste preferences.

You could also replace the tabletop salt shaker with a shaker of garlic powder (not garlic salt, which has sodium), oregano, or any other favorite powder.

“Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, or dry mustard powder can add tanginess and depth to dressings, marinades, and sauces. Incorporating mustard into vinaigrettes, sandwich spreads, or rubs offers a flavorful twist without relying on sodium,” Routhenstein suggested.

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