Americans Still Eat Too Much Salt

Go Easy on the Salt

The American Heart Association offers these suggestions to keep your salt intake under control:
• Eat mostly foods that are fresh or unprocessed.
• When shopping, choose low-sodium or no-salt-added frozen and canned foods.
• Perk up dishes with alternatives to salt, such as herbs, vinegar, spices, or even citrus fruits.
• Go easy on salty snacks like chips, popcorn, salted nuts, and pretzels.
• Check the labels of baked products. Many contain baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a significant source of sodium.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.Despite repeated warnings about the health effects of a high-salt diet, Americans haven’t cut back – at all.

A new study found that salt consumption is the same today as it was nearly 50 years ago, an amount well above current U.S. guidelines.

Eating too much salt can increase blood pressure – and boost the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Long-term study

Harvard researchers analyzed 38 studies that involved a total of 26,000 people and that spanned more than four decades – from 1957 to 2003. They focused on the amount sodium that people had in their urine. This test is the best way to check salt consumption, because 40 percent of salt is sodium.

You need sodium for proper body functioning. But most fresh foods – vegetables, fruits, and meats, for instance – already contain sodium as a natural ingredient. There’s no need to add any.

More processed food

Because people eat more processed foods today than in 1957, the researchers thought they would find that salt intake had increased over time. But decade after decade, people consumed about 3,700 mg of sodium a day.

That’s more than half again the maximum amount of sodium recommended. Current guidelines say adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon) a day. For people who have or are at risk for high blood pressure, the upper limit is 1,500 mg a day.

Since the 1980s, the federal government has advised Americans to cut back on salt to reduce the risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also notes that although salt intake has remained constant for almost 50 years, rates of high blood pressure and heart disease have increased in the last two decades.

Rising obesity rates, however, may play a more critical role in hypertension than salt intake, the researchers note.

Personalize the right amount

The study’s main message, says David McCarron, M.D., lead author of an accompanying journal editorial, is that the intense effort to get people to limit their salt intake hasn’t worked.

It may be that people need a set amount of salt and are hard-wired to seek it, he says. To wit:

• Dr. McCarron led a 2009 study that looked at urine samples of 19,151 people in 33 countries over a 24-year period. The average daily sodium intake was 3,726 mg a day, even across diverse groups of people and diets, and without change over time.

• In a 12-year study of more than 13,000 people from Switzerland, people averaged around 3,680 mg a day.

In light of these studies, the editorial says, guidelines should limit salt for those at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease rather than issue a broad, one-amount-fits-all recommendation.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.