A recent study found that nearly all Americans consume more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. Data show that more than 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium, which can increase heart disease risk.

People over the age of 14 should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day – the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt – and less than that if they are younger, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“The body needs sodium to function properly,” said Dr. Sherry Ryter-Brown of Novant Health Pineview Family Medicine in Kernersville, North Carolina. “Sodium binds with water to maintain fluid and volume status and to help our cells function. Sodium and potassium are important to maintain an appropriate balance, which is crucial for nerve transmission, muscle contractions and other functions of the body.”

“However,” Ryter-Brown added, “if we eat a high sodium diet, the body retains more water to dilute the sodium, which in turn increases blood volume in the body. This increases the work on the heart and elevates blood pressure.”

Consuming too much sodium causes the body to retain fluid, which puts a strain on the heart to pump the extra volume. As a result, pressure in the blood vessels increases, causing high blood pressure. High blood pressure raises your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , about 70 million American adults have high blood pressure – or 1 in 3 adults. As it is, 44 percent of Americans with high blood pressure are not controlling their condition. If each individual with high blood pressure took the steps to manage their condition, there would be 56,000 fewer strokes and heart attacks each year.

Go easy on the salt

Many foods contain small amounts of sodium naturally, but most of the sodium consumed in our diet comes from prepackaged, processed foods and restaurant meals.

The average adult consumes roughly 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, Ryter-Brown said. That’s 1,100 milligrams over the recommended amount set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans .

“You can reduce your sodium intake by increasing your consumption of real, fresh foods that you prepare yourself,” Ryter-Brown said. “Read labels carefully. Opt for low-salt options at the grocery store and try to remove salt from your recipes.”

Going easy on the saltshaker is one effective way to cut back on sodium. When preparing food ourselves, we tend to use a significantly less amount of salt than we would consume had the food been prepared for us at a restaurant or in a prepackaged meal.

Ryter-Brown also suggested limiting sodium-laden condiments, such as soy sauce, salad dressings and dips, and using herbs and spices to flavor food instead of salt.

Instead of giving into your craving for salty foods with a bag of potato chips, try a healthier alternative. Sunflower seeds, whole-grain pretzels or fresh edamame topped with natural sea salt can help satisfy those cravings without overloading your body with sodium.

Ryter-Brown suggested keeping your home and office free from salt-rich foods that are easy to reach for when you get the urge to snack. “Craving sodium is an acquired taste. Reducing your intake over time will help to diminish those salt cravings,” she added.

Looking for additional health and wellness tips? Click here for a list of healthy snacks and recipes.