Too much sodium in the diet increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems

It's a battle that needs to be fought. Too much sodium (salt) in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure, which accelerates hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems.

The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that American adults eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, more than double its recommended limit. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 90% of American children munch too much sodium, thanks largely to processed food and fast food, setting the table for health problems later in life.

If you're aiming to lower your sodium intake for the long term, experts recommend a gradual process to acclimate your taste buds—and your kids'—to a healthier regimen. The AHA, CDC and other health advocates offer lots of advice for a lower-sodium lifestyle. Here are some of the best:

Reduce sodium in the kitchen

  • Cook with fresh ingredients instead of processed whenever possible.
  • If you must use canned beans and other vegetables, rinse them in cold water first.
  • Don't add salt to boiling water, no matter what the recipe says.
  • Make your own soups and sauces.
  • Experiment with other herbs and spices, such as oregano, basil, pepper, garlic and lemon zest, instead of instinctively reaching for the salt.

Reduce sodium at the supermarket

  • Compare sodium totals on the Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Look for lower-sodium options in everything from soups and breads to popcorn and peanut butter, in the condiment aisle and at the deli counter.
  • The more fresh food instead of canned or processed, the better.

Reduce sodium when dining out

  • Check the menu for sodium totals, or scout the restaurant's website before you go.
  • Ask the waiter to prepare the dish without salt, then add what you need yourself.
  • Don't load up the pizza with so much meat and cheese.
  • Order sauces and dressings on the side so you control the amount that you add.
  • Think grilled, baked and roasted instead of fried.
  • Fast food? A treat, not a daily routine.

There's one more arena where health advocates want us to do battle: the public one. The AHA encourages people to contact food companies, restaurant chains and lawmakers at every level to urge they help reduce sodium in the American diet.

"Labels can be deceiving, so it's important to always look at the number of mg per serving. When a label says 'sodium-free,' it contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving. But when it says 'reduced sodium,' it is 25% less than the usual sodium level, which can still be high."

— Clinical dietitian at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas

Healthy recipes

Download these heart healthy recipes for easy meal time options.