Did you hear about the 17-year-old girl who’s eaten nothing but Chicken McNuggets since her first trip to McDonald’s 15 years ago – when she was 2 years old?! She may be the person with the most unhealthy diet on the planet, and she recently collapsed at work, and was rushed to the hospital struggling to breathe. Doctors were horrified by her low-nutrient, high-fat diet. But the true culprit of her collapse was the salt! She was told that she has to cut back on the salt, or she’ll die.

Most people know that excessive salt raises your risk for weight gain, heart attack and stroke – especially as you get older. But this girl’s excessive salt intake caused anemia, inflamed veins, and extreme vitamin deficiency. In fact, she was so deficient in vitamins that she had to be injected with them. And anemia is usually linked to lack of iron, but it can also be caused by eating too much salt.

Of course, your diet’s probably not nearly as extreme as only eating nuggets for 15 years. But do you actually know how much salt you’re ingesting?

Your body only needs 500 milligrams of sodium a day to help maintain the right balance of fluids, move your muscles, and transmit nerve impulses.

But the average North American ingests more than 6 times that much. And at least 80% of that salt comes from processed and packaged foods.

And it’s hard to give up! Studies show that salt triggers the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine which makes salty foods as addictive as nicotine and alcohol. And like any addiction, the more salty, processed foods you eat, the more you want, no matter how much it hurts your health.

The good news is: It only takes a few weeks to get used to a lower-salt diet, and to learn to prefer your food without it.