THE equivalent of approximately two teaspoons of salt a day is all it takes to potentially cause structural heart damage leading to heart failure, according to a recent study conducted in the US.

The study of almost 3000 people, with the median age of 49 years, examined data from lab tests of sodium intake, heart structure and heart function.

It found those consuming 3.7 grams or more of salt a day had a significantly higher rate of damage to their heart than those who consumed lower levels.

Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute director, Professor Tom Marwick, said it doesn’t take much to hit the daily recommended level of salt intake.

“The study found these people were likely to have a larger left atrium and signs of muscle strain that could ultimately lead to stroke, heart failure and other forms of heart disease,” he said.

“Unfortunately, high salt intake is as common in Australia as it is in America.

“Salt is common in snacks, prepared and preserved food. It’s important that Australians are aware of the salt content of foods and choose accordingly.”

Prof. Marwick said the optimum salt intake is still unclear.

“It seems moderation rather than avoidance is the best and most achievable option,” he said.

“The average Australian consumes 10 grams a day. The Heart Foundation proposes an intake of less than six grams a day, and less than four grams a day in people with high blood pressure or known cardiovascular disease.”

Tips to reduce your salt intake

1. Eat mostly fresh foods, especially vegetables

• If you need to add more flavour, use fresh or dried herbs, spices, pepper, garlic, ginger, lemon juice or vinegar rather than salt.

2. Read nutritional information panels.

• Check the nutrition information panel for sodium on packaged foods.

• Choose foods that are low salt or reduced salt.

3. Put the salt shaker away.

• Avoid using salt in cooking and at the table. This includes all forms of salt like salt flakes, rock salt, sea salt, pink salt, garlic and onion salt etc.

4. Allow your tastebuds time to adapt.

• It may take up to four to six weeks to adapt to lower sodium intake and appreciate the natural flavours of food.

5. Limit processed foods.

• NO preserved or cured foods (salami etc.).

• NO smoked products (smoked salmon, ham etc.).

• NO salted foods (olives, cheese etc.).

• NO fast foods (pizza, hamburgers etc.).

• NO sauce and stocks (tomato sauce, soy sauce etc.).

• NO savoury breads, rolls, crackers and crisps.

6. Choose no added salt or salt-reduced products.

• For example reduced salt baked beans, stock and tomato sauce.