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Most of World's Adults Consume Too Much Salt, Study Finds

THURSDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Three-quarters of adults worldwide, including many Americans, consume nearly twice the daily recommended amount of salt, according to a new study.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,000 milligrams a day, while the American Heart Association sets the recommended limit at 1,500 mg per day.

This study found that adults' sodium intake from table salt, commercially prepared foods and salt and soy sauce added during cooking averaged nearly 4,000 mg a day in 2010. The average in the United States was about 3,600 mg a day.

"Americans are still over-indulging in salty foods and it doesn't take much to overdo it," said one expert not connected to the study, Dr. David Friedman, chief of Heart Failure Services at North Shore-LIJ's Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y.

"I see many patients who erroneously think they're having low-salt or salt-reduced food products and they wind up having more salt in their diet then they think," Friedman said. "This leads to fluid retention, raised blood volume, high blood pressure and potential symptoms of shortness of breath and swelling of the limbs in the short term."

Over the longer term, high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease, heart attacks and heart failure can occur due to salt overload, Friedman added.

The new study marks "the first time that information about sodium intake by country, age and gender is available," study lead author Dr. Saman Fahimi, a visiting scientist in the epidemiology department at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an American Heart Association news release. "We hope our findings will influence national governments to develop public health interventions to lower sodium."

The highest average intake was 6,000 mg per day in Kazakhstan. Kenya and Malawi had the lowest average intake at about 2,000 mg per day.

Overall, an estimated 99 percent of the world's population exceeded the WHO's recommended sodium limit, the researchers found.

"One teaspoon of salt has greater than 2,000 mg of sodium, which is an eye-opening visual reminder of how that amount of salt is more than enough for one's daily intake," Friedman said. "A 'food prescription' from doctors and nutritionists for more spices and herbs; less salt and cured processed foods; [and] with a push for more plant-based and fresh choices will help stem this salty tide."

Another expert agreed, and pointed to another likely cause.

"Americans are still eating too much salt," said registered dietitian Dana Angelo White, clinical assistant professor of athletic training and sports medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

"The culprit? People in this country are still eating too many meals away from home," she said. "The majority of sodium that folks take in is not from the salt shaker at the table or from what is used to season food while cooking in a home kitchen, it's from restaurant, take-out and highly processed convenience foods. There is nothing wrong with resorting to these types of food from time to time, but when they are part of your daily routine, it adds up to a heaping pile of salt."

The study findings were based on an analysis of 247 surveys of adult sodium intake conducted as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study. The report was scheduled for presentation in New Orleans on Thursday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting on Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism.

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute outlines how to reduce sodium in your diet.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: David Friedman, M.D., chief, Heart Failure Services, North Shore-LIJ's Plainview Hospital, Plainview, N.Y.; Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., clinical assistant professor of athletic training and sports medicine, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn.; American Heart Association, news release, March 21, 2013

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