According to a new study, if the general population cut salt consumption by just one gram per day, we could add hundreds of thousands of years to our lives over the next decade. Salt intake has risen drastically in America since the 1970s, and blood pressure has shot up right along with it. The findings were presented last month at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention conference.

Limiting salt by even three grams (a half-teaspoon) per day would have significant impact...

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used a computer model called the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model to determine what exactly might happen if people cut salt consumption by 0 grams to 6 grams per day. In the next decade, they determined that 800,000 "life years" could be saved for each gram of salt eliminated from the diet. If the highest amount — six grams — was cut, the model estimated that 1.4 million incidents of heart disease and 1.1 million fewer deaths would be seen just in the U.S. alone.

Limiting salt by even three grams (a half-teaspoon) per day would have significant impact, too, they said. Doing this would slash heart disease cases by 6%, heart attacks by 8%, and the number of heart disease-related deaths by 3%. For African-Americans, whose blood pressure is often more sensitive to salt intake, the benefit would be even greater: they would experience 10% fewer cases of heart disease, 13% fewer incidents of heart attack, and 6% fewer deaths.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, lead researcher on the study, points out that it's not that people are adding more salt to their food than we were thirty years ago, but rather that we are taking in more processed foods — which are notoriously high in the salt department. She says that her team's "results suggest that very small reductions in the salt in processed food — reductions that would not be noticeable in the tastes of most foods — could lead to the reductions in heart disease and deaths that [they] model here."

In other countries like the UK, Bibbins-Domingo says, the food industry has worked to limit the addition of salt to processed foods, and the US could consider doing the same. "Such steps, in addition to efforts on the part of individuals to be mindful of their salt intake, could lead to improved heart health across the U.S."