August 16, 2012 / 5:00 PM / 8 years ago

Most Americans still eating too much salt

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most U.S. adults are eating far more sodium than dietary guidelines recommend, despite decades of health advice urging them to cut back, says a new study.

“People are trying to follow the guidelines, but it’s difficult because there’s so much sodium in the processed and restaurant food we eat,” said Dr. Mary Cogswell who led the study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that most healthy people limit the sodium they eat to 2300 milligrams a day.

Less than 10 percent of people in the study met this recommendation. Cogswell’s team found that most U.S. adults are eating far more sodium than recommended - 3371 milligrams per day, on average.

Regardless of education, age, race, and sex, people are consuming too much sodium, said Cogswell, whose team published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Research suggests that a high salt diet can raise blood pressure. On the other hand, it’s been shown that potassium may reduce that effect by helping the kidneys get rid of sodium the body doesn’t need.

So researchers asked more than 12,000 adults what they ate during the previous 24 hours to get an idea of how much sodium and potassium they were eating. They excluded table salt as it’s difficult to judge its contribution.

Dietary guidelines recommend people eat 4700 milligrams of potassium a day-that’s about the same amount of potassium as you’d get from 10 bananas or eight sweet potatoes, two of the best sources of the mineral.

But according to the new study, less than two percent of people are meeting the guidelines. Those surveyed ate 2632 milligrams of potassium a day, on average.


People can take action to cut down their salt intake and increase how much potassium they’re getting. Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a heart disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told Reuters Health.

“Nearly all fruits and vegetables contain potassium so it is possible to achieve these targets with a diet high in fruits and vegetables generally,” said Bibbins-Domingo, who studies the effects of salt intake.

Cogswell suggests that people eat more fresh fruits and vegetables or choose frozen options without sauces, ask that salt is not added to food in restaurants, and read nutrition labels.

“There’s a wide variation in the amount of salt in processed and restaurant food. You can look at a jar of tomato sauce and see about 400 milligrams difference between brands,” explained Cogswell.

Still, it’s not always easy for people to make healthy choices.

“People in poorer communities don’t always have many alternatives to choose from; it can be harder for them to find fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Bibbins-Domingo, who was not involved in the study.

With close to 80 percent of sodium in the average diet coming from processed food, Cogswell suggests that the food manufacturing industry also has a role to play in reducing dietary sodium.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative - a group of local and national health authorities led by New York State - has set voluntary targets for salt in packaged and restaurant foods. To date, 28 food manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants - including companies like Heinz, Kraft foods and Subway - have signed up to the targets.

About one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, putting them at increased for heart disease and stroke.

According to Cogswell, “even small decreases in the amount of sodium we consume each day (400 milligrams on average) could potentially reduce our risk of (high blood pressure) and the amount we spend on health care.”

“The main message is that we’re all eating too much sodium and…consumers, through their purchasing power, can to do something about it. Choosing products that say low sodium on the label can make a difference,” she said.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online August 1, 2012.

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