OBJECTIVE: To provide updated, evidence-based recommendations concerning the effects of dietary salt intake on the prevention and control of hypertension in adults (except pregnant women). The guidelines are intended for use in clinical practice and public education campaigns. OPTIONS: Restriction of dietary salt intake may be an alternative to antihypertensive medications or may supplement such medications. Other options include other nonpharmacologic treatments for hypertension and no treatment. OUTCOMES: The health outcomes considered were changes in blood pressure and in morbidity and mortality rates. Because of insufficient evidence, no economic outcomes were considered. EVIDENCE: A MEDLINE search was conducted for the period 1966-1996 using the terms hypertension, blood pressure, vascular resistance, sodium chloride, sodium, diet, sodium or sodium chloride dietary, sodium restricted/reducing diet, clinical trials, controlled clinical trial, randomized controlled trial and random allocation. Both trials and review articles were obtained, and other relevant evidence was obtained from the reference lists of the articles identified, from the personal files of the authors and through contacts with experts. The articles were reviewed, classified according to study design and graded according to level of evidence. In addition, a systematic review of all published randomized controlled trials relating to dietary salt intake and hypertension was conducted. VALUES: A high value was placed on the avoidance of cardiovascular morbidity and premature death caused by untreated hypertension. BENEFITS, HARMS AND COSTS: For normotensive people, a marked change in sodium intake is required to achieve a modest reduction in blood pressure (there is a decrease of 1 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure for every 100 mmol decrease in daily sodium intake). For hypertensive patients, the effects of dietary salt restriction are most pronounced if age is greater than 44 years. A decrease of 6.3 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 2.2 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure per 100 mmol decrease in daily sodium intake was observed in people of this age group. For hypertensive patients 44 years of age and younger, the decreases were 2.4 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and negligible for diastolic blood pressure. A diet in which salt is moderately restricted appears not to be associated with health risks. RECOMMENDATIONS: (1) Restriction of salt intake for the normotensive population is not recommended at present, because of insufficient evidence demonstrating that this would lead to a reduced incidence of hypertension. (2) To avoid excessive intake of salt, people should be counselled to choose foods low in salt (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables), to avoid foods high in salt (e.g., pre-prepared foods), to refrain from adding salt at the table and minimize the amount of salt used in cooking, and to increase awareness of the salt content of food choices in restaurants. (3) For hypertensive patients, particularly those over the age of 44 years, it is recommended that the intake of dietary sodium be moderately restricted, to a target range of 90-130 mmol per day (which corresponds to 3-7 g of salt per day). (4) The salt consumption of hypertensive patients should be determined by interview. VALIDATION: These recommendations were reviewed by all of the sponsoring organizations and by participants in a satellite symposium of the fourth International Conference on Preventive Cardiology. They have not been clinically tested. SPONSORS: The Canadian Hypertension Society, the Canadian Coalition for High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control, the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control at Health Canada, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.