Question: Is salt or sodium bad for me?

Question and AnswerQuestion and Answer

Should I pass on the salt or add salt to my food?  

Salt Well
Salt Well

To start, let us discuss what table salt is.  Table salt or sodium chloride is a white crystalline structure that contains equal parts of sodium and chloride.  The salt compound is bonded with ionic bonds from negatively charged chlorine atoms and positive sodium atoms that form the structure you see.  It is found in nearly every body of water on earth and is essential for the hydration status of nearly every animal.  So how could it be harmful?  

It has long been a popular belief in the health and medical community that higher sodium intakes are tied to higher levels of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.  But what does the research show?  A study published in Lancet in August of 2018 looked at this very question[1].  The study looked at salt intake and hypertension associated diseases in over 96,000 patients.  The researchers found, that for most of us sodium does not increase hypertension, stroke, or heart disease.  The exception to this finding was found in those who eat more than 5 grams of salt per day. This finding is contrary to the medical advice I was taught in medical school and the recommendations suggested by the World Health Organization and American Heart Association.  Most medical and health associations suggest that you keep your intake below 1-1.5 tsp per day or 1500-2400 mg per day.  

I still would recommend that you keep your intake below 2400 mg per day.  There is no benefit of a high salt diet, and salt does increase water retention.  Instead, add some potassium and magnesium-rich foods which are nature’s blood pressure medication.  Discuss this addition with your medical provider because both may interfere with some medications.    

The bottom line: Most of us can eat salt without any health complications but discuss this with a medical provider.  There is no reason to sacrifice flavor and you can get plenty of flavor without the salt.  Instead, choose vegetables and beans that are high in potassium and magnesium.  


  1. [1]
    A. Mente et al., “Urinary sodium excretion, blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and mortality: a community-level prospective epidemiological cohort study,” T, vol. 392, no. 10146, pp. 496–506, Aug. 2018 [Online]. Available: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31376-X” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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