A few recent studies tossed some controversial doubt on our long-held belief that “low salt equals better health,” so we thought it would be the right time to examine the new rules for salt, since February is National Heart Month.

A high salt diet remains a prime source of high blood pressure and increases risk for heart disease, so we need to watch it – medical leaders such as the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic say none of the rules have changed there. However, one, controversial new study from the University of Chicago found heart failure patients were at more risk for complications and even death if they reduced their salt intake after a heart failure episode. Another, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, claimed eating less salt leads to heart disease.

Confused about the rules? Things could be changing.  For now, if you’re a heart patient or have reason to worry about high blood pressure, it’s time to ask your doctor a few more detailed questions. If you’re a healthy person, the general rule of “watch your salt intake” will probably still apply.

Salt can preserve foods and inhibit bacteria in food, too, so a little is not a bad thing. Salt contains sodium, called “essential” by some to enable your nervous system, keep your muscles strong, and help the brain function. The wide recommendation is that your daily sodium intake does not exceed 2300 mgs (or less for some). To give you a point of reference, a single cup of chicken soup can be 500 mgs.

In the middle of all this, salt itself has never been more enticing. Gourmet salts promise bacon flavor, special herb blends, and more. Here’s the rub: if you’re concerned, decrease your salt intake gradually, and your taste buds might very well adjust to desire less salt.

Meantime, you can experiment with a variety of options to reduce salt without sacrificing flavor:

  • Kosher Salt, which provides flavor without over-salting, because the flakes have a larger surface area (3/4 teaspoon of Kosher equals one teaspoon of table salt) to disperse flavor quickly;
  • Crystalline Sea Salt, which adds a pungent burst of flavor to just-cooked foods; it can be briny, sweet, or bitter depending on the type (such as Pink Hawaiian);
  • Flaked Sea Salt, which dissolves quickly and delivers complex flavor;
  • Fleur de Sel, the “caviar” of salts, with an earthy flavor that lingers;
  • Black or Red Hawaiian Sea Salt for flavor, garnish, color, and culinary drama

Many experts also recommend cutting down on processed foods, which naturally contain high levels of sodium. Seems likes the rules for salt and sodium could be changing, but one rule remains: more mindful health choices never hurt anyone.