A new study makes the case for skipping that extra sprinkle of salt on your plate.
salt spilling out of a salt shaker
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A little salt goes a long way, and too much salt can lead to more than just an overseasoned meal. After all, eating too much salt can leave you feeling dehydrated and bloated on a day-to-day basis, and overdoing it on sodium in the long term can be tough on your heart. (If you're watching your salt intake, you might want to try our heart-healthy meals that stick to lower levels of sodium.) Nearly 90% of American adults consume more sodium than the recommended maximum 2,300 milligrams each day—that's probably why the Food and Drug Administration is encouraging food manufacturers to lower the amount of sodium in processed foods.

While excess salt can come from many sources, a new study points to one in particular as a habit to break. People who add more salt to their food at the table are at a higher risk of premature death than those who don't, according to a new study in the European Heart Journal. The study found that when compared to folks who never or rarely added salt at the table, those who always did were 28% more likely to die prematurely from a natural cause.

"Adding salt to foods at the table is a common eating behaviour that is directly related to an individual's long-term preference for salty-tasting foods and habitual salt intake," study author Lu Qi, M.D., Ph.D., said in a media release. "In the Western diet, adding salt at the table accounts for 6-20% of total salt intake and provides a unique way to evaluate the association between habitual sodium intake and the risk of death."

The researchers, who used data collected in the UK Biobank, compiled medical and food habit information from more than 500,000 people in the study. For the purposes of the study, death before reaching the age of 75 was considered a premature death. This study is the first to examine the relationship between salting food and lifespan, according to the research team.

The researchers also found that folks who added salt at the table had a shorter average lifespan than those who did not. At the age of 50, men and women who always added salt at the table were likely to live 2.28 and 1.5 years less, respectively, than those who never or rarely did. The study did see a slight reduction in risk for folks who ate more fruits and vegetables, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Eating more fruits and veggies can help you get in your daily fill of potassium, which can help dampen the effects of excess sodium on the body. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you are likely to lose through urine, assuming you don't have a kidney disease. The American Heart Association suggests consuming about 4,700 mg of potassium each day.

While the conclusions in this study still need to be confirmed with further research, taking the saltshaker off of your dinner table could be a good way to help reduce your sodium consumption. Other recent research has found that eating less salt can improve quality of life, making it easier for some folks with heart disease to breathe, sleep and stay energized. If you really need to scale back your salt intake, avoiding processed foods and restaurant-prepared meals could be a good starting point. Also, there are several naturally sodium-free ways to boost the flavor of your meals, like adding herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends.

The Bottom Line

While sodium is a necessary part of a healthy diet, overdoing it can be hard on your blood pressure and heart health. New research from the European Heart Journal suggests that people who always salt their food at the table could be 28% more likely to die prematurely than those who rarely or never do. The researchers used data around food habits and health from more than 500,000 people to reach their conclusions, but the study's findings still need to be confirmed with further research. Since most American adults are eating too much sodium, it's a good idea to take the saltshaker off the table if you're concerned about your own intake. (Here are some dietitian-approved tips to help you cut back.)