Salt in Food: Assume that You’re Sensitive to Salt

“For certain individuals who are salt sensitive, excessive consumption of sodium can increase blood pressure,” says the Salt Institute, which represents the salt industry. Certain individuals?


“Some people react to sodium more quickly than others,” says Stephen Havas, a former Vice President of Science, Quality, and Public Health at the American Medical Association. “But 90 percent of people in this country develop hypertension and the principal cause is exposure to excess sodium, so most people over time don’t do well with high-salt loads.”

What’s more, “there is no predictor or test of salt sensitivity,” adds Havas. “So one has to assume that almost all of us are sensitive to long-term sodium exposure.”

That’s why expert panels recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day if you’re middle-aged or older, are black, or already have high blood pressure. Everyone else should shoot for 2,300 mg a day. But “everyone else” turns out to be just 30 percent of U.S. adults.



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27 Replies to “Salt in Food: Assume that You’re Sensitive to Salt”

    1. Salt is salt, for those of us who are sensitive to it. It’s a marketing ploy to push sea salt as “healthy.” I can not eat enough of it to matter about the additives.

  1. I’m confused. I subscribe to Nutrition in Action. Is this replacing the print message?
    Is the $1o an additional subscription?

    1. Hi Ann,

      These posts will not replace the print version. We just choose some information from the issues (as well as other sources) to post here daily. There is still a lot in the print version that we do not include here.

  2. Salt (and sugar) is ubiquitous. I’m always thirsty after eating pasta sauce or pizza.
    Eating out, forget it. Lots more salt.

  3. Thank you for this great tip in engaging with salt. Could you expound a bit more on why blacks as a racial group, if this is meant, should limit salt intake to 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. I think this would be helpful to understand the science behind the recommendation. Thank you.

    Joy Williams, Partners in Health and Wholeness Regional Consultant

  4. I don’t know if I am salt sensitive or not but I find it almost impossible to limit my salt intake to 1500 mg per day. One dinner out can be over 3000 mg of sodium. There are few menu items that are salt restricted.

  5. I’d like to see more discussion about Himalayan salt, as I’ve been told by a health and nutrition professional that Himalayan salt is more closely aligned with the body’s metabolism. I’d be interested to know how sea salt and Himalayan salt compare because that is the salt of choice in ‘healthier’ foods I would find in my local COOP or Whole Foods Stores.

    1. Michele, sodium is sodium is sodium is sodium. Pink Himalayan Salt might contain a few other needed minerals, but sodium is sodium is sodium is sodium.

  6. I buy only fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. If my meal needs a little salt or sweetening I add my own sea salt or sweetener. I’m not an idiot, nor, am I lazy….I can do it myself. The FDA bans carcinogenic
    additives to food…why can’t they at least limit how much salt and sugar these companies put in their pre-processed garbage?

  7. Yes, please some distinction between the nutritionally bankrupt “iodized salt” that is so common and sea salt or Himalayan salt, which are metabolized differently and have beneficial mineral content.

  8. Not to be rude, but could anyone know so little about science as to believe that the sodium chloride that comes from Nepal is any different than the sodium chloride that comes from Mars?

    1. But that’s like saying that the sugar in a McDonald’s milk shake is the same as the sugar in, let’s say, a fresh grapefruit. It’s all the other baggage that is so harmful.

  9. Thanks for these daily tips. I really appreciate your work. I am surprised you focused on the salt shaker here, when most of the sodium in our diets come from packaged foods. Until the sodium in packaged foods is reduced, I would like to see some guidelines for healthy guidelines for packaged foods, for those who choose to use them.
    Also, consider information on other ways people add sodium to foods at the table – such as soy sauce, steak sauces etc.

    1. I agree…over 75% of salt consumed comes from processed foods. The problem is mainly the salt *in* foods put in by the processor.

      I suggest changing the icon on the pdf and removing the salt shaker…that’s not the source of “salt in food.” Even at home it is better to use no added salt in cooking (vinegars, worcestershire sauce, Liquid Aminos (no salt added soy sauce), etc) and use the salt shaker on the table *after* tasting the food.

      Providing lower added salt choices at the store and the restaurant is the way to lower the population’s intake of salt and reduce salt-related harms. Then a companion focus on increasing the consumption of potassium contained in fruits and vegetables, yogurt, fish and poultry is likely a good way to lower blood pressure with other benefits.

    2. Why do you say that they focused on the salt shaker? What I read just says salt intake, or sodium intake, over and over again…

  10. enough of the mumble jumble. Guys just reduce your salt intake as much as possible, try to eat out less and avoid sodas and fast food and most of us will be fine. I have lost almost 50 lbs by this process and feel a lot better. You can too good luck all.

    1. Why do people always say avoid soda for avoiding sodium? When I’ve looked at the contents there isn’t many milligrams sodium in soda, unless some have more that I haven’t seen or unless their chugging down multiple cans a day.

      1. Julie,
        As a nutritionist, I’ve read it’s not just the sodium, but sodium phosphate that is the danger with soda consumption. My understanding is sodium phosphate draws calcium out of the bones and it is flushed from the system. This can cause brittle bones and dental problems. I would like to hear someone else weigh in on this, if possible, about the actual body chemistry.

        Ruth Roberson

      2. Ruth, I can’t research all of the articles I’ve read on this subject (sodium phosphate) right now, but here’s a quickie from the WebMD article on Phosphate Salts:

        “Bisphosphonates interacts with PHOSPHATE SALTS

        Bisphosphonate medications and phosphate salts can both lower calcium levels in the body. Taking large amounts of phosphate salts might cause calcium levels to become too low.

        Some bisphosphonates include alendronate (Fosamax), etidronate (Didronel), risedronate (Actonel), tiludronate (Skelid), and others.”

        Please everybody, note that the bisphosphonates they’re talking about are the ones you take to counter osteopenia and osteoporosis. If you’re also drinking sodas, look out!

  11. I understand it’ NOT the salt in our shakers at home, but the salt in processed food and in restaurants. Avoiding processed foods, particularly for working mothersis extremely difficult. What can be done about this?
    And bread contains far more salt than anyone might expect, but who has time to make homemade bread?

  12. Louise Raper
    August 26, 2013 at 5:36 P.M. I have a different slant on salt consumption. I have been ADDICTED to salt as far back as I can remember, about 4 years old. I am female age 71. For about 40 years I consumed 1 box of Morton’s salt per week. Was hospitalized several days and tested. The report came back that my sodium level was ok. My body was eliminating excess salt. I have cut down considerably at this time but still consume 1 full box a month. Does any one else have this problem? I would be very interested to know.

  13. I can’t quote the source item number one, but recently I heard that the reasons there are more cases of high blood pressure due to salt intake are: 1. Prior to industrialization, we all had to do a lot of labor, which means a lot of sweating. Sweating releases a lot of salt. 2. Processed food has so much salt that if you eat already prepared food you will have problems eventually.

    Coupling our fresh as daisy lives, with the humongous amounts of salt in prepared food, you shouldn’t wonder why the high blood pressure problems.

    TIP: Salt food on your plate not when cooking, so that the salt is the first thing you taste and you will use less.

  14. An additional comment: I wish these articles, and experts everywhere, would CONSISTENTLY make the distinction between “salt” and “sodium.” These terms keep getting used interchangeably, which makes a HUGE difference when outlining upper limits in sodium intake.

    And, sodium is sodium is sodium is sodium, no matter from where the source.

  15. I’d like to respond to Stephen’s comment. There’s a whole lot of difference between the different kinds of sea salt. Yes, they are all mainly salt, but it’s the very impurities that make all the difference. My favorite kind of salt is the grey wet salt that comes from Brittany. Recently I discovered a great new one that comes from the Oregon coast. They taste so good that you don’t need to add as much, and it’s best to add these great salts at the end of cooking, as finishing touches.
    We all respect science, but — well, Stephen — you should just try some different salts. HOpefully you will be able to tell the difference.

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