A nutritionist explains.
Credit: WestEnd61

You’ve likely heard the advice to be mindful of how much sodium you consume—either straight from your doctor’s mouth, or via an article out there on the interwebs. Yet the average American eats 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, which is well over the recommended daily value of 2,300 milligrams a day. This target is for a “healthy” adult, but a 1,500-milligram daily threshold is recommended for someone who needs to restrict their sodium intake for health reasons.

But a recent review study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, questions the need to strictly limit sodium. Researchers found that study participants who limited their sodium intake weren’t all that much better off health-wise. They didn’t lower their risk of heart disease, and they didn’t live any longer.

Part of the reason might be that there isn’t much evidence. And in the entire body of literature, researchers only found nine studies that looked at sodium intake and heart failure. I’m not a scientist or a statistician, but as a journalist and dietitian, I read my fair share of research and that seems like an awfully low number of studies to base a dietary recommendation for any health condition.

Still, those findings were focused on salt restriction. Here at Cooking Light, we aim to give you recipes that will help you stick to the 2,300-milligram sodium cap (and we’ll continue to do that while the research experts study how helpful—or not—a 1,500-milligram limit is). And that’s because sodium is still a nutrient that our bodies need, but more is not better, just like any other nutrient. And whether a nutrient is deemed “good” or “bad”, we only need so much of them.

In our recipes, you’ll see that an entrée will often have more sodium in it than an appetizer or a salad, and a baked good will differ from a vegetable side, but despite that variance, it’s our goal to give you recipes that let you build a meal, menu, or daily meal plan and adhere to that recommended 2,300-milligram threshold.

All of that said, you should know that sodium isn’t the only nutrient to be mindful of when it comes to heart health. Sodium makes the headlines, but as the saying goes, “any press is good press.” Potassium and fiber deserve a little limelight, too. Most of us don't get enough of them, and both are super healthy for your heart. Plus, potassium—found in oranges, bananas, potatoes, and yogurt—helps to shuttle sodium out of your body, which is particularly valuable when your diet is salt-heavy.

The bottom line: This new research is certainly interesting, but until more compelling evidence is released, I’ll still be sticking to the recommended daily sodium value and loading up on heart-healthy nutrients. And unless your doctor says otherwise, you should try to do the same.