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Is Salt Actually Bad for You? (5 Salt Myths Debunked)

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “salt”?

Do you think of high blood pressure or heart disease? Excess sodium? The one thing that you should never, ever add to your food?

Good news: you can take a deep breath.

Most of what you’ve been told about salt is wrong. Here’s what you really need to know…

The Role of Salt in the Body

Salt is made up of two minerals: 40% sodium and 60% chloride, and is the highest source of sodium in a daily diet (1).

Sodium plays a part in muscle contractions, nerve function, and nutrient absorption. It helps regulate your blood volume and blood pressure (1, 2, 3, 4).

Not all bodies respond to sodium in the same way. Some people may not experience any effects when eating a high-salt diet. Others, who are considered salt-sensitive, may experience changes in blood pressure and bloating (5).

Chloride is also integral to body function. After sodium, chloride is the second most abundant electrolyte in your blood (6). As an electrolyte, chloride plays an important role in fluid balance, nerves, and other key functions. If you don’t get enough chloride, you may experience respiratory acidosis, which happens when carbon dioxide builds up in your blood and makes it more acidic (7).

Here are five myths you may have heard about this ancient ingredient…

Myth 1: I don’t add salt to my food, therefore I don’t eat much sodium.

On average, Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams of salt per day, with about 71% of that salt coming from processed food...yikes (8)!

This goes to show that it’s not the salt you add to your food. It’s the salt in packaged, processed food that you need to look out for…

Infographic showing the top sources and average intakes of sodium in America.

Myth 2: Salt—in any amount—is bad for you.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day. However, recent studies are showing that a moderate sodium intake of around 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt per day (or 5 to 10 grams) is NOT linked to an increased risk of heart disease (1, 9).

Myth 3: A high-salt diet comes with serious health risks.

Yes, several studies have shown a connection between high sodium, high blood pressure, and heart disease (10, 11, 12, 13, 14).

However, other studies have found conflicting results—confessing that there isn’t enough evidence to be certain there’s a link between high sodium intake and heart disease (15, 16, 17).

Some researchers are even saying that a moderate intake of sodium (around 1 to 2 teaspoons per day, or 5 to 10 grams) is not linked to an increased risk of heart disease (1, 18).

Myth 4: Salt has no nutritional value.

Sodium and chloride, the two ingredients in salt, are both important minerals that your body needs to function. Without them, your body may struggle with fluid balance, nerve health, basic muscle functions, and nutrition (1, 3). Salt is also a leading source of iodine, iron, and folic acid for many Americans (19, 20, 21). Without salt in your diet, your body won’t have the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Myth 5: A low-salt diet is essential for optimal health.

As always, the science here is conflicting. I do believe that a high-salt diet from packaged foods can be harmful to your heart, but a LOW-salt diet comes with its own laundry list of problems: low blood pressure, low sodium levels, dehydration, and even increased levels of blood fat (22, 23, 24).

Not only that, but low sodium levels can also lead to serious neurological issues, including seizures, coma, and impaired cognitive functioning, along with GI symptoms (25).

The Bottom Line

Salt isn’t something that should be avoided at all costs. It’s an essential mineral that plays an essential role in the human body. While some people can benefit from lessening their salt intake (especially from processed foods), it’s not something to be universally feared. Many studies indicate that salt may not be as bad as we once feared—especially for those without pre-existing health conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Should be Careful With Their Salt Intake?

People who are overweight, salt-sensitive, hypertensive, or pre-hypertensive should consider keeping their salt intake low. This is especially important if you have salt-sensitive hypertension (26).

One of the easiest ways to do this? Cut out processed foods (71% of America’s salt intake comes from these so-called “foods”!).

If you have heart disease, or even a family history of heart disease, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you—but also be on the lookout for hypotension, which can develop in some heart disease patients who are put on low-salt diets (27, 23).

How Much Salt Should I Eat?

Just like the studies on salt are conflicting, so are guidelines on how much salt to eat. Currently, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 2,300 mg of salt per day. But most Americans consume roughly 3,393 milligrams (mostly through packaged, processed foods) (28).

If you’re a competitive athlete, someone who works in extreme heat, or someone with an extenuating health issue, you may need a higher intake of salt.

The body needs a minimum of around 500 milligrams of salt per day to function properly, which comes out to under ¼ of a teaspoon (29). Unless your doctor says otherwise, make sure you are getting at least this much!

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.


  1. http://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322108/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17465610
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27757935/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2698141
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1987013
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22385875
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1062852/
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm 
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27974028/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27216139/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32130310/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32057379/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763082/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26028244/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33011774/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30345950/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25599120/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27974028/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5952925/
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31784815/
  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32738033/
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25364669/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26199309/
  24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29710036/
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192979/
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7471100/
  27. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/low-blood-pressure-when-blood-pressure-is-too-low
  28. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials
  29. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/how-much-sodium-should-i-eat-per-day

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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