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Too Much Sodium Can Put Anyone's Health at Risk

Sodium causes fluid retention, which increases blood volume and requires the heart to pump harder to push it through your arteries. Over time, this often leads to an increase in blood pressure, which damages artery walls and makes them vulnerable to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), thus increasing your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. And these dangers exist even if you don't have a history of hypertension (a reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher). "A small, lasting rise in blood pressure — even within the 'healthy' range — ups your odds of heart attack and stroke," says Roccella.

Sodium Puts More than Your Heart at Risk

Consuming high levels of sodium can make otherwise healthy people more prone to gastric cancer, according to studies. "High doses of sodium may damage the lining of the stomach, making it more susceptible to the disease," says Havas. Research has also uncovered a link between sodium intake and osteoporosis. "Sodium reduces the amount of calcium your body retains, decreasing bone density and putting you at a higher risk for fractures," he adds. The bottom line: Although some sodium is okay, cutting back now could mean total-body benefits for years to come.

Tasty Salt Substitutes

  • Use garlic, parsley, dill, and basil to add flavor to your food without salt's negative health effects.
  • Add a pinch of sugar or a spritz of lemon juice to bring out the flavor in fresh veggies.
  • Roast vegetables such as red peppers, parsnips, and squash to caramelize their natural sugars and bring out their flavor.
  • Spice up a stir-fry with garlic, ginger, chili, rice vinegar, and/or lime juice.

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