Shake the Salt Habit
Live Right Live Well: Diet
Shake the Salt Habit
By Michael Castleman for Live Right Live Well
Americans eat too much salt -- and it’s killing us. Why? Salt is high in sodium. Sodium increases your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk of heart attack and stroke. If we all cut just 1 gram of salt from our daily diet -- that’s one frozen pizza or TV dinner, one serving of french fries, or five handfuls of potato chips -- the nation would suffer 250,000 fewer new cases of heart disease and 200,000 fewer heart disease deaths over a decade, according to a recent study led by Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, M.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concurs. The average American consumes 3,436 milligrams of sodium per day. But according to a recent CDC report, no one should consume more than 2,300 mg per day. In fact, 69 percent of people should be limiting their sodium to under 1,500 mg per day -- the amount found in about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt and less than half of what the average American consumes.
Should you be on a low-sodium diet? The answer is yes, if you ...
Surprisingly, when it comes to sodium, what comes out of the salt shaker is not the real problem. Salt added during cooking and eating accounts for only 11 percent of the nation’s sodium intake. The real problem is packaged, processed and restaurant food. These foods contain more than 75 percent of the sodium Americans consume. Over the past 30 years, Americans have been cooking less, buying more packaged and processed foods, and eating out more. As a result, salt consumption has increased by 50 percent -- and rates of high blood pressure have risen along with it.
To cut down on sodium:
And don’t forget to read food labels. Look for the word “sodium”: sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate, disodium phosphate, sodium benzoate, etc. Then check the nutrition information and add up the amounts you eat in a day. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll be surprised.
“Most Americans need to reduce their salt intake,” says Darwin R. Labarthe, M.D., director of the CDC division for heart disease and stroke prevention. For the sake of your health, “read food labels, understand how much salt you’re consuming and consume less.”
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.