Yes, it's still important to watch your sodium intake

It's the first piece of advice given to nearly everyone diagnosed with high blood pressure: cut back on your salt. If you're over a certain age, you've almost certainly heard that speech already (and probably more than once).

Reducing sodium intake helps about 10 percent of people with high blood pressure. It works much better if you reduce your sodium intake while increasing your potassium intake (especially from fruits and vegetables).

Now, lately, I've seen both mainstream and natural health doctors back away from that advice. I've seen them claim that maybe you don't need to worry so much about your salt intake.

One new study making headlines, for example, claims the "right" amount of salt is somewhere 2,645 mg and 4,945 mg of salt a day -- which is where most people fall these days anyway (even though it's well above the established guidelines).

This study from the Cochrane Collaboration says falling below that level -- getting the lower levels recommend by guidelines -- can actually increase your risk of health problems.

But here's the flaw: Most people switch to a low-salt diet only after it's too late -- only when they've suffered a heart attack or heart failure and are under strict doctor's orders to make changes.

In other words, people on a low-salt diet are often unhealthy from the get-go, so of course they have a higher risk of health problems. If they had made the switch sooner (and other healthy lifestyle changes), they almost certainly could have avoided those problems.

Other studies show that salt really does have a major effect on your health. A recent eight-year British study found that reduced salt intake is likely to have contributed to a significant reduction in blood pressure as well as ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke mortality.

So my advice is to stick to the tried-and-true, because decades of research shows that limiting your sodium intake will improve your health, especially your heart health.

Choose "low salt" foods in the supermarket and carefully read package labels. Better yet, reduce your intake of processed foods since most of them are loaded with salt (and of course are unhealthy in so many other ways).

Instead, eat freshly prepared foods made from scratch and add a little salt to taste.

You'll use less salt, and your food will taste better, too.