Less than 1/4 teaspoon of salt provides the minimum requirement of 500 milligrams of sodium per day. Most Americans do not have problems maintaining this level of sodium in the diet but struggle to limit their intake to less than 1,500 milligrams daily, which is the American Heart Association's current recommendation as of 2014.
Only 12 percent of the sodium in the typical diet is naturally occurring in food. Over 75 percent comes from processed food, primarily added as salt, although baked goods often contain sodium in the form of baking soda. The remainder of the sodium comes from salt added at the table or in preparing meals. The Food and Drug Administration requires nutrition labels provide the amount of sodium in processed foods sold in the United States. Reducing a family's sodium intake requires reading labels and choosing processed foods that are lower in sodium content.
Under normal circumstances, the kidneys filter excess salt from the blood. However, if salt levels increase, the blood attracts more water to lower the salt concentration. This excess water increases the pressure against the blood vessels, causing hypertension, or high blood pressure. Reducing salt levels in the American diet to 1,500 milligrams could reduce the occurrence of hypertension by over 25 percent and the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease by over 1.2 million people in a decade.