Most Americans eat too much salt on a daily basis, potentially putting their health at risk, federal health officials reported Thursday.
More than 90 percent of children and 89 percent of adults consume more sodium than is recommended in the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new guidelines advise no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt a day — about a teaspoon — for most adults.
“Nearly all Americans, regardless of age, race or gender, consume more salt than is recommended for a healthy diet,” said lead study author Sandra Jackson, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s division for heart disease and stroke prevention.
The CDC report was published in the Jan. 8 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. “Reducing salt can lower blood pressure and also lower the risk of heart disease,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that about 70 million American adults have high blood pressure and only half have it under control. Heart disease, stroke and other heart-related diseases kill more than 800,000 Americans each year and cost nearly $320 billion a year in health care and lost productivity, she added.
The latest federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans — released Thursday — emphasize cutting back on salt, sugar and saturated fats. The recommendations also advise increasing amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet.
Despite long-standing advice to cut back on salt, Americans’ consumption of salt has stayed mostly the same during the past decade, Jackson said.
That’s likely because more than three-quarters of the salt (sodium) that people eat comes from processed or packaged foods, and restaurant food. This hidden salt makes it hard for people to reduce the amount of salt they consume, she said.
To see a big impact on salt intake, restaurants and food manufacturers would need to cut the amount of salt they put in food, Jackson said. “That’s the most powerful public health tool for reducing salt for the American population,” she said.
Some companies have started to reduce salt in their products voluntarily and others are being urged to do the same, Jackson pointed out.
Samantha Heller is senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City. She noted that reducing salt consumption can be confusing for consumers because many foods high in salt don’t necessarily taste salty.
“For example, a commercially baked chocolate crumb-cake donut has 490 mg of salt, and the salt in bagels can run over 1,000 mg per bagel,” Heller said. “Chain-restaurant pasta dishes can contain well over 2,000 mg of salt per dish,” she said.
“One of the easiest ways to reduce our salt intake is to eat more home-cooked foods using less-processed products,” she added.
The latest dietary information on salt comes from nearly 15,000 people who took part in the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
Although too much salt is a problem for all men and women and all races, the new report noted some differences in salt consumption:
- More men (98 percent) than women (80 percent) consume too much salt.
- More whites (90 percent) eat too much salt, compared with blacks (85 percent).
- Salt and calorie consumption peaks between ages 19 and 50.
- Among those at increased risk for heart disease or stroke — people 51 and older, blacks and people with high blood pressure — more than three out of four eat more than 2,300 mg of salt a day.
- Adults with high blood pressure eat slightly less salt than other adults, but 86 percent of them still eat too much salt.
Jackson suggested that consumers can cut the salt in their diet by reading food labels and choosing foods low in salt. “Looking at the label is a powerful tool,” she said.
In addition, people can adopt a healthy eating plan, such as the one recommended in the new guidelines, Jackson advised.
“Also, people can adopt the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet), which is an eating plan that is simple and heart healthy,” she said. “It’s high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, potassium and low-fat dairy products.”
For more on salt consumption, visit the American Heart Association.