CHICAGO Nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt with most of them getting more than twice the recommended amount, according to a survey by U.S. government researchers.
They said an estimated 77 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant foods.
"Sodium has become so pervasive in our food supply that it's difficult for the vast majority of Americans to stay within recommended limits," said Janelle Peralez Gunn, public health analyst with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who led the study of salt consumption.
"Public health professionals, together with food manufacturers, retailers and healthcare providers, must take action now to help support people's efforts to reduce their sodium consumption," Peralez Gunn said in a statement.
The study said most Americans consume 3,466 milligrams of sodium a day, more than twice the recommended limit. Much of the excess sodium comes from foods like pizza, cookies and meats, it said.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Proposed new guidelines for 2010 would lower that to 1,500 mg.
Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, which can cause kidney failure and strokes. The Institute of Medicine in February declared high blood pressure a "neglected disease" that costs the U.S. health system $73 billion a year.
According to the CDC survey, grain-based foods account for the biggest proportion of salt in the American diet, providing 36.9 percent of the total average intake of 3,466 milligrams.
That is followed by foods containing meat, chicken and fish, which account for 27.9 percent.
Together, these two categories account for nearly two-thirds of the daily salt intake in the American diet, the team said.
The survey, published in the CDC's weekly report on death and disease, is the latest from government researchers looking at sodium intake in the U.S. diet.
In April, the Institute of Medicine called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt added to foods to help Americans cut salt.
The FDA has not decided whether to force food companies to cut the salt but many have taken the hint and begun cutting the salt from their foods voluntarily.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Maggie Fox and Bill Trott)