Lowering salt consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by a quarter, new research has shown.
Although it has long been accepted that eating too much salt is bad for the heart, the latest study is the first to quantify the harm that salt can do.
Researchers from Boston also discovered that eating less salt can reduce the risk of fatal heart disease by a fifth, highlighting the importance of cutting excess salt from your diet.
Professor Graham MacGregor of London's St George's hospital told the BBC that the findings were "very important".
"It shows that if people reduce their salt intake it will reduce the number of people suffering from heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. We did not have that type of evidence before.
"And we are only talking about quite small reductions in salt intake to have a big effect on risk," he revealed.
Government ministers hope to reduce consumers' daily intake of salt to six grams by 2010, one gram lower than the seven grams consumption achieved by study participants.
The Food Standards Agency is encouraging food manufacturers to reduce salt levels in 85 categories of foods, including bread, breakfast cereals, ready meals, cakes and biscuits.
Independent advice on private healthcare