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Most Americans Get Too Much Salt

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Ninety percent of Americans are eating more salt than they should, a new government report reveals.

In fact, salt is so pervasive in the food supply it's difficult for most people to consume less. Too much salt can increase your blood pressure, which is major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

"Nine in 10 American adults consume more salt than is recommended," said report co-author Dr. Elena V. Kuklina, an epidemiologist in the Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

Kuklina noted that most of the salt Americans consume comes from processed foods, not from the salt shaker on the table. You can control the salt in the shaker, but not the sodium added to processed foods, she said.

"The foods we eat most, grains and meats, contain the most sodium," Kuklina said. These foods may not even taste salty, she added.

Grains include highly processed foods high in sodium such as grain-based frozen meals and soups and breads. The amount of salt from meats was higher than expected, since the category included luncheon meats and sausages, according to the CDC report.

Because salt is so ubiquitous, it is almost impossible for individuals to control, Kuklina said. It will really take a large public health effort to get food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of salt used in foods they make, she said.

This is a public health problem that will take years to solve, Kuklina said. "It's not going to happen tomorrow," she stressed.

"The American food supply is, in a word, salty," agreed Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "Roughly 80 percent of the sodium we consume comes not from our own salt shakers, but from additions made by the food industry. The result of that is an average excess of daily sodium intake measured in hundreds and hundreds of milligrams, and an annual excess of deaths from heart disease and stroke exceeding 100,000."

"As indicated in a recent IOM [Institute of Medicine] report, the best solution to this problem is to dial down the sodium levels in processed foods," Katz added. "Taste buds acclimate very readily. If sodium levels slowly come down, we will simply learn to prefer less salty food. That process, in the other direction, has contributed to our current problem. We can reverse-engineer the prevailing preference for excessive salt."

The report is published in the June 25 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

For about 70 percent of adults, salt intake should be limited to 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day, but only 5.5 percent of these adults meet that level, according to the report.

For others, the recommended amount of daily salt intake is less than 2,300 mg a day, according to the report.

Reducing your salt intake is not only important for people with high blood pressure, Kuklina said. It's good for everybody, "even if you don't have hypertension," she said.

There are some things people can do to reduce their salt intake, Kuklina said. You can eat fewer processed foods and focus on fresh and frozen foods. You also can read the product labels to see how much salt is in the food and opt for low-sodium foods, she said.

Also, Kuklina advises rinsing canned vegetables and beans in water to remove salt.

The data for the report was collected from 3,922 individuals who took part in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist, commented that "nearly 80 percent of our sodium intake comes from processed, restaurant, frozen and prepared foods."

Research suggests that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg/day for healthy folks and to 1,500 mg/day for people with high blood pressure, who are middle-aged, older or black will reap substantial health benefits, Heller said.

"Food companies have indicated that they will lower the sodium in some of their products, but it will take time before that happens, and only some products will have lowered sodium. The truth is that dropping our intake to 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day is difficult to do and unrealistic for most people," she said.

Consumers will be best served by cooking more foods at home. It saves money and helps reduce the intake of dietary sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates and excess calories, Heller said.

"Any reduction in dietary sodium is a move in the right direction," she added. "We can help ourselves by increasing our awareness of where sodium is hidden in foods, reading food labels -- look for milligrams of sodium per serving -- ignore the percent on the label -- checking the sodium in the foods served at restaurants we frequent when it is available and taking charge of our health and what we eat by making more of our meals at home."

More information

For more information on limiting salt, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Elena V. Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., epidemiologist, Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; David Katz, M.D., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist, Fairfield, Conn.; June 25, 2010, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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