By now, you probably know to “hold the salt” to protect your heart. In fact, the American Heart Association just released new stricter salt recommendations lowering the daily-recommended amount from 2500 mg to 1500 mg. However, researchers are also suggesting that you “hold the sugar”. Although heart disease claims more lives in America each year than cancer or stroke, many people may not be aware how reducing salt and sugar consumption can benefit their heart health.

Americans typically consume more than 2 times the recommendation of 1,500 mg of salt per day, with about 77% of daily salt intake coming from packaged, processed, fast, and restaurant food. Excess salt can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease. Even decreasing salt intake by only 400 mg per day can be beneficial to your heart health.

Consuming a high amount of added sugars in processed, packaged, or prepared foods, and soda pop or sugary drinks has recently been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. It appears that higher consumption of added sugars can increase the risk of heart disease. Excess sugar specifically appears to cause low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) and high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that is in the blood. Although larger long-term research trials are needed on the relationship between added sugar and heart disease, the Emory researchers support dietary guidelines that would recommend limits on consumption of added sugars.

Here are some tips for reducing your salt and sugar intake:

  • Read food and beverage labels and keep track of your daily consumption of sugar and salt
  • Find recipe-makeovers for your favorite meals that contain less salt and less added sugar
  • Consult a nutritionist for help planning menus and meals
  • Learn what foods are best to select when dining out
  • Ask your doctor’s office for educational material and resources in your area
  • The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have helpful guides on their websites