If chips, pretzels and salted nuts are your go-to snacks, you’re certainly not alone. Over 60 percent of snackers opt for something salty when given a choice, according to the consumer research firm Mintel.

But salty snacks are only part of the reason the average sodium intake in this country is over 3,400 mg per day. That figure is substantially more than the 2,300 mg – or roughly 1 teaspoon of salt per day – the Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. government recommend for people age 14 and older.

Years ago salty items were on the “foods to avoid” list, but only for people who already had high blood pressure or kidney disease; bad kidneys aren’t great at filtering out sodium, so it accumulates in the body.

Like some other dietary components, say cholesterol or fat, that occupy a constant place on the nutritional concern pendulum, health issues with sodium are associated with excess consumption – though not getting enough sodium can also be dangerous.

The pendulum swung over to fat as the villain for a while, but came back to sodium when researchers discovered that some people are more “sodium sensitive” than others – that is, their sodium consumption triggers bigger reactions in their blood pressure than in the rest of us. Accordingly, the pool of those who should be concerned about sodium grew to include older people, African Americans and people with heart disease or diabetes.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is calling for food manufacturers and restaurants to commit to helping lower the country’s collective sodium intake by voluntarily cutting their use of salt in processed and prepared foods. The FDA “guidance” is in draft form, and still open for public comment.

Salt is not inherently bad – it’s the main way we get its component electrolytes – sodium and chloride – which we need, in small amounts, for good health. Sodium is involved in regulating the body’s fluid balance, the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle function.

Luckily, humans are hardwired to detect salty tastes through the sensory cells of our taste buds.

The downside is that, because it attracts water, sodium increases the body’s blood volume, causes the heart to have to work harder to circulate all that blood, and raises blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure, called hypertension, strains blood vessels and organs, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

It’s true that salt is ubiquitous in the American food supply, but the consumption of a diet that’s high in salt is not unique to Americans. Around the world people consume more than adequate amounts of sodium.

Some estimates put our physiological needs around 1,500 mg sodium per day, with average consumption actually somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day; that’s the amount found in about 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons.

The new FDA proposal has the potential to make a widespread impact on sodium consumption, and the two-phase plan is aligned with what health authorities like the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been advocating for years. The United States isn’t alone in these efforts; other countries have seen some success in sodium-lowering public health initiatives and regulation.

The FDA plan, if it goes through, is years away from full implementation, so if you’re a member of an at-risk group noted above or just want to bring your salty diet down a notch, a do-it-yourself sodium reduction plan is in order.

Your first inclination is to take the salt shaker off the table, stop salting the pasta water and go buy some Mrs. Dash. Those are fine to do, but not super effective. Why? About 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from the processed foods we eat, and from restaurant meals, which is precisely the reason the FDA came up with the new sodium guidance. Do you see the theme here? When convenience goes up, usually sodium does, too.

Stop looking for salt in all the wrong places and put your efforts where they’ll make the biggest dent in your sodium intake.

Research shows that the biggest contributors to Americans’ sodium intake are: bread and rolls (seems odd, but we eat a lot of bread and rolls, so it adds up); cold cuts and cured meats; pizza; poultry items such as frozen nuggets and strips and chicken injected with a brine solution; commercial soups, canned as well as dried noodle types; and sandwiches, including hot dogs. I’d add to that, commercial salad dressings, cheese and sauces/condiments.

First and most obvious – eat fewer of these items. Make a move toward a less processed diet. Cook more homemade foods – salad dressing takes just a few minutes to make, and we typically use less salt when we cook than is added to commercial processed foods.

When shopping, get in the habit of seeking out lower-sodium versions. Look for the words “unsalted,” “no salt added” or “low sodium” on product labels.

Now for the second area of sodium attack: Restaurant food – especially at fast food and casual chain restaurants – is notoriously salt-laden. For specifics on super-salty menu items take a look at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s website, which has a list of restaurants’ highest sodium items.

Maine Restaurant Association president and CEO Greg Dugal says the association will be educating and encouraging their members to voice their opinions and concerns about the guidance to the FDA. The association includes mom and pop, chain and fine-dining restaurants.

“There is a fine line between offering customers what they want to consume – flavor-wise – and the potential definition of healthy choices,” Dugal said. “What seems obvious to the FDA may not be practical for restaurant owners to execute.”

Fine-dining establishments are less of a target for the FDA’s plan, which is probably appropriate given that they aren’t a staple source of food for most people’s diets. And then of course, there are the chefs.

“I wouldn’t expect many chefs to volunteer their menus to be boxed in by nutrition guidelines that could stand in the way of their creativity,” said Mark Loring, owner of Saltwater Grille in South Portland. “Our goal – and that of our chef – is to please the palates of our customers. A good chef doesn’t have to load up a dish with a lot of salt to do that.”

So, limiting restaurant meals, take-out, pizza deliveries and visits to the prepared foods bar at the supermarket, along with a steady elimination of salty processed and convenience foods is now your plan. One last tip: if you give your taste buds a break, they’ll get used to savoring less salty fare in a few weeks.

Kitty Broihier has been a registered, licensed dietitian for over 25 years. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition communications from Boston University and runs her consulting company, NutriComm Inc., from South Portland.