Pictured recipe: Charred Shrimp & Pesto Buddha Bowls
As we grow older, many of us begin adopting a "heart-healthy" diet and exercise regimen, whether it's prescribed by a doctor or after conducting a little research of our own. We've seen dozens of studies in recent years touting different foods, eating habits, and lifestyle practices—even napping!—for a healthier heart, and a new study, funded in part by the American Heart Association and FDA, investigated whether the claims behind eight popular diets and 16 supplements promoting heart health benefits actually had any merit.
Turns out, only one of the eight diets could be touted as potentially heart-healthy. A low-sodium diet reduced one's all-mortality risk in those with normal blood pressure and reduced deaths from heart disease in those with hypertension.
As for the supplements, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation were the only two that showed any potential heart health benefits. Researchers found some supplements could actually be harmful for one's heart, and we advise speaking with your doctor if you're considering any kind of regular supplementation.
Medical professionals have been advising patients with heart health concerns to watch their sodium intake for decades, and this comprehensive study shows we really could all benefit from lowering our salt intake. While we can't survive without some sodium in our diets, it's important to find a healthy balance to stay properly nourished and heart-healthy.
Related: Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods
Most health experts would advise consuming between 1,500-2,300mg of sodium per day—closer to the lower end if you have hypertension or a serious heart condition. The average American consumes closer to 3,400mg sodium per day, so reducing one's salt intake could be a drastic dietary change for some. The good news? A diet lower in salt doesn't have to be bland! We have some excellent recipes, meal plans and tips for a smoother transition to a reduced-sodium diet.
One of the best things you can do to kick off your low-sodium diet is to eat more home-cooked meals. Almost 75% of our daily sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods, so preparing your meals at home can make a huge difference in your sodium intake almost immediately.
Starting a low-sodium diet might also mean changing the way you shop at the grocery store. It's worthwhile to take an inventory of your household's favorite store-bought condiments, breads, snack foods and other sneaky sources of sodium and either make your own or find a new favorite option that is lower in sodium.
Our Low-Sodium Diet Center is full of meal plans and recipes to help you follow a low-sodium diet that is still full of flavor and excitement. Our Low-Sodium Healthy Aging Meal Plan: 2,000 Calories is a great option for fueling your body with the nutrients your body needs most as you grow older, while our 7-Day Heart-Healthy Meal Plan:1,200 Calories is great for those wanting to protect their heart and lose some weight along the way!
Related: 15 Little Ways to Protect Your Heart
EatingWell.com is also home to dozens of craveable yet healthy low-sodium recipes to help you make delicious versions of your favorite foods while sticking to a heart-healthy diet. Here are some of our favorites.
This Peppery Barbecue-Glazed Shrimp with Vegetables and Orzo combines all the flavors we love about barbecue, without the high sodium content that typically comes along with it. This is a great 30-minute meal for easy weeknight dining and summer entertaining!
Pasta is another one of those dishes that can be a serious salt bomb—especially at restaurants—but our Grilled Eggplant & Tomato Pasta lets you have your carbs and eat 'em too (without all the sodium). This recipe is also a great way to use up your farmers' market bounty!
While your favorite Asian takeout may be off-limits, our Sesame-Garlic Beef & Broccoli with Whole Wheat Noodles sure isn't! This delicious dish packs only 336mg sodium, while comparable versions at your favorite restaurant can have up to a full day's worth of sodium.