Despite the FDA’s recommendation that you should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (not to mention the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 milligrams), the overwhelming majority of Americans are consuming too much. Nine out of 10 Americans consume more sodium than the recommendations.

Sodium is an essential nutrient, but the human body doesn’t require much of it. In fact, for most individuals, as little as 500 milligrams of sodium per day is enough for your body, in contrast with the 3,400 milligrams consumed by the average American.

Too much sodium can lead to adverse health effects, but it’s hard to minimize your intake when so many processed foods contain copious amounts of it, usually for the purpose of preservation and modifying the flavor.

“A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, which then puts you at risk for a heart attack, damage to the heart and coronary arteries, congestive heart failure and other complications,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Ashley Reese, RDN, LDN, Geisinger Wellness.

Blood pressure already rises naturally with age, so as you get older it becomes increasingly important to make sure you’re staying within the recommended limit.

Packaged food and food served at restaurants are among the biggest culprits that may be driving your sodium intake too high.

“With packaged foods, especially, losing track of the number of serving sizes you’ve eaten can mean that you just ate a lot more sodium than the amount indicated in the nutrition facts,” said Reese. “And restaurants all have different ways of preparing similar meals, so make sure to ask about the sodium content before ordering or else you don’t know how many thousands of milligrams you might be eating in one meal.”

You should also pay attention to the percentages. If the amount of sodium listed in one serving size of a snack food, for example, is 5 percent or less of the recommended daily amount of sodium, it is low sodium. If it is 20 percent or more then it is high.

“It’s important to always check the label, because not all foods that are high in sodium taste salty,” said Reese. “So you might actually be eating a lot more sodium than you realize.”

And you can throw out your salt shaker to avoid adding more sodium to your diet, but, if you’re like a lot of Americans, the salt you add to foods only accounts for around 20 percent of your sodium intake. So paying attention to the sodium content of the foods you eat should be your primary method of regulation.

“Also, just because a label says ‘no added salt’ or ‘unsalted’ doesn’t mean it’s low in sodium,” said Reese. “Always check the nutrition facts and see what the amount of sodium per serving size is, and then have the discipline to stay within the serving size.”