You have heard all the warnings, but nothing tastes quite as good as salty chips or fries, right? You might not be so quick to reach for the salt shaker if you knew how this mineral affects your cardiovascular system. Knowledge is mind power, so now is a good time for a little salt education.

Why Not Salt?

Sodium, or salt, is an essential mineral that helps maintain proper fluid levels. It is key in the transmission of nerve impulses and a critical part of muscle functioning. The problem is the human body has a threshold for sodium levels. Once you get too much salt, it is hard to get rid of it.

Salt attracts water. When your sodium levels back up, the salt pulls water into the blood, increasing the volume. High blood volume means high blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure is the precursor for cardiovascular disease.

So, How Much Salt Can You Eat?

Salt is a common ingredient in processed foods, because it does taste good. This is why many people eat more salt than they realize. The Dietary Guidelines recommend you limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day – one teaspoon of table salt – if you are under the age of 51.

As you grow older, the walls of your arteries weaken, so salt becomes more of a danger. Older individuals should ingest 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Black people are prone to high pressure, so they should also limit their intake to 1,500 mg, as well.

Cutting back on salt means more than just taking the shaker off the table – it means reading labels and keeping track of the sodium in your food. Try the American Heart Associations sodium tracker and see how much salt you really eat each day.