Salt is a good source of sodium, an essential mineral for the body. However, if a person consumes too much salt, they may be at risk of certain health conditions, including heart failure and stroke. In rare cases, a person can experience a fatal overdose of salt.

Salt is present in a wide range of foods and drinks. Salt may occur naturally in certain foods, or manufacturers may add salt during the production process.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most table and sea salts contain around 40% sodium. Sodium is a mineral that plays a role in various functions within the human body. Although sodium in the diet can be beneficial, too much sodium can cause harm.

It is also worth noting that while similar, the terms salt and sodium are not interchangeable.

This article will look into how much salt is too much for a person to consume. It also covers why salt is important, the complications of consuming too much salt, and how to reduce salt intake.

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The amount of salt a person needs in their diet varies based on age and health levels. Many guidelines do not measure salt and instead suggest a value for sodium. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists the recommended maximum limit of sodium per day based on age:

AgeAmount of sodium per day in grams (g)
1 to 31.5 g
4 to 81.9 g
9 to 13 2.2 g
14+2.3 g

The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends that an adult consumes no more than 2.3 g of sodium per day, which is equivalent to 5.75 g of salt. They add that, ideally, no one should consume more than 1.5 g of sodium, or 3.75 g of salt, per day and that a person only requires roughly 0.5 g of sodium per day for the body to function well.

It is also important to note that salt is not the only product that contains dietary sodium. This is why nutritional labels show sodium rather than just salt.

This sodium and salt converter can help people convert the sodium level on nutritional labels into salt or vice versa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the risk of intaking too much salt and suggests that an adult should consume less than 2 g of sodium per day, which is about 5g of salt.

The AHA adds that, on average, people in the United States consume more than 3.4 g of sodium, or 8.5g of salt, per day, 70% of which comes from pre-packaged, prepared, or restaurant foods.

However, these are simply a guideline. Some people may require more salt in their diet. For example, a highly active individual may need more salt to maintain fluid balance and prevent dehydration, as people lose salt when they sweat.

Rather than salt itself, the body requires the nutrients that salt contains, such as sodium. Sodium has many uses in the human body, including:

  • helping nerves and muscles work properly
  • regulating water and fluid content
  • regulating electrolyte balance

It is unlikely that anyone in the U.S. will have a sodium deficiency due to their diet.

However, the following factors and conditions can lead to low sodium levels:

  • consuming too much water
  • severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • kidney disorders
  • taking water pills, or diuretics
  • conditions or medications that affect how the body regulates water
  • underactive adrenal glands
  • a blockage of the small intestine
  • cirrhosis, where scar tissue forms on the liver
  • certain drugs, such as opioids
  • an underactive thyroid gland
  • heart failure

A person who has too little sodium in their body may experience:

  • sluggishness
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • muscle twitching
  • unresponsiveness
  • a coma

In very extreme cases, low sodium levels in a person’s body can cause death.

There are many ways a person can reduce the amount of salt they consume. The AHA recommends the following tips for a person who wants to reduce their sodium intake, which will also help to lower their salt intake:

  • checking labels on premade and packaged foods and choosing products with lower sodium values
  • choosing poultry products that manufacturers have not injected with a sodium solution
  • looking for reduced- or low-sodium condiments
  • picking canned vegetables with no added salt, or frozen vegetables without salty sauces
  • using onion, garlic, herbs, spices, vinegar, or citrus juices in place of salt when cooking
  • draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables
  • combining low-sodium foods with their regular sodium versions
  • cooking pasta, rice, and oatmeal without salt
  • grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing foods instead of adding salt to bring out natural flavors
  • tasting food before adding salt
  • trying steamed, baked, roasted, poached, or grilled meals when at a restaurant
  • trying and limiting portion sizes
  • limiting salty snacks
  • using salt substitutes, unless a medical condition prevents their use

Packaged or prepared food will have a label to indicate how much sodium it contains per serving. These labels may also indicate the percentage of a person’s recommended intake of sodium they contain.

Poultry products with the terms broth, saline, or sodium solution on their labels are likely to contain excess salt. Products that are pickled, brined, cured, smoked, or are in a salty sauce may contain more significant amounts of salt.

Foods that are low in salt may include certain terms on their label, such as:

  • sodium-free
  • low, or very low, sodium
  • reduced-sodium
  • less sodium
  • light in sodium

If a person prepares meals at home, they can measure the amount of salt they use in their cooking.

Although rare, a person can consume a fatal amount of salt. However, a person would need to eat a huge amount of salt for this to occur.

A person would need to eat approximately 0.5–1 g of salt per kilogram (kg) of body weight for it to be fatal. A person weighing 154 pounds, or 70 kg, would have to consume 35–70 g of salt to experience fatal levels.

For people with heart failure, kidney disease, or liver disease, regularly eating excessive amounts of salt may put them at further risk of health problems.

If a person has consumed a lot of salt, they can try the following methods to rebalance their salt levels.

Drinking water can help to dilute the levels of salt within the body and readjust the body’s sodium-to-water ratio.

Potassium can help to counteract the effects of sodium on the body. A person who has consumed a lot of sodium may find the following potassium-rich foods beneficial:

  • sweet potato
  • potato
  • greens
  • white or kidney beans
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • nonfat yogurt
  • cantaloupe

If a person has consumed a lot of salt, they should consider reducing the amount they have with other meals.

A person who consumes too much salt may notice the following:

  • Water retention: When a person eats too much salt, their kidneys hold on to water to maintain the body’s sodium-to-water ratio. Water retention can lead to swelling, puffiness, or weight gain.
  • Increased blood pressure: A person who eats a salty meal may experience a rise in blood pressure. Water retention caused by high levels of salt leads to an increase in blood volume, increasing the pressure on the heart.
  • Excess thirst: Typically, consuming salty foods may make a person thirsty. However, a study from 2015 found that people who ate salty nuts did not become more thirsty after 2 hours. Further research is necessary to confirm the results of this study.

A person who eats excessive amounts of salt may be at risk of:

Salt is a mineral containing sodium that is essential for certain bodily processes. However, if a person’s salt intake is too high, they may be at risk of developing certain health conditions.

The amount of salt a person needs depends on their age and overall health. Ideally, a person should aim to eat no more than 1.5 g of sodium, or 3.75 g of salt, per day.

Salt is present in many foods, so a person should be careful to choose foods low in salt and sodium. Reducing salt intake can help to improve a person’s heart health.