Potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, nuts. These popular foods all have something in common—lots of salt. Many people find a salty taste pleasant, but salt does more than simply add saltiness. It can also enhance sweetness and hide unpleasant metallic or chemical flavors, rounding out the overall balance of flavors and improving the taste of food. Flavor can also be enhanced by adding herbs, spices, and vinegars, but adding salt is a cheap and easy way to make food taste good.
Unfortunately, taking too much salt has been associated with high blood pressure, which can damage the heart and blood vessels and increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke. For decades, the U.S. government and the American Heart Association have recommended consuming less salt. But reduced consumption of salt has not been shown to reduce blood pressure and has not led to a decrease in heart attack and stroke in the U.S. population. Yet current guidelines still call for limiting salt intake to stay healthy. So how much salt do we actually need to take to stay healthy?