Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An overdose of salt plagues the American diet

We all should know by now that Americans eat way too much salt, especially from all the processed foods we consume daily. But a new CDC study, released on Tuesday, spells out just how much salt we really are consuming. And the numbers are enough to make you shun your salt shaker for good!

That's because a whopping 90 percent of us are consuming more than the recommended amount.

According to the CDC, the average daily intake of sodium is about 3,300 mg per day, almost 50 percent more than the U.S. Dietary Guidelines of  2,300 mg (about one teaspoon) -- and more than double the recommended limit of 1,500 mg for about 60 percent of us who suffer from things like diabetes and high blood pressure.

The study also listed the top 10 "offenders" in contributing to our sodium overdose. More than 40 percent of the salt in our diet comes from these 10 types of foods, in order: breads and rolls; cold cuts and cured meats such as deli or packaged ham or turkey; pizza; fresh and processed poultry; soups; sandwiches such as cheeseburgers; cheese; pasta dishes; meat mixed dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce; and snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn.

Surprised to see bread atop the list instead of salty snacks? Well, the CDC explains that many types of bread can contain 200 or more mg of sodium. (For instance, two products in my pantry are Thomas plain English muffins, at 220 mg per muffin, and Walmart's Marketside multigrain loaf, 220 mg per slice.) Doesn't seem like much, until you consider that many people have several servings in their daily diet -- so it can add up fast.

The CDC notes that reducing our sodium by an average of 1,200 mg per day could save up to $20 billion a year in medical costs.  "People can choose how much salt to add to their food at the table. They can't take it out once it's there," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told the Associated Press.

So, what proactive steps can be taken? 

First and most important: Limit high-sodium foods!  When shopping, read the nutrition labels
to find the lowest sodium options of your favorite foods. Amounts can vary widely. For instance, canned soups can range from about 200 mg per serving to almost 1,000! Or, three ounces of luncheon meat has between 450 and 1,050 mg.

Other CDC recommendations include:

  • Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen fruits and vegetables without sauce.
  • When eating out, request lower sodium options.
  • Support initiatives that reduce sodium in foods in cafeterias and vending machines.
 Oh, and here's one more: Shun that shaker!

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