Your Health

Americans Need Help Shaking The Salt Habit

Salt shaker dumped on table. i i

Reducing salt intake requires more than cutting out the shaker. TooFarNorth/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption TooFarNorth/Flickr
Salt shaker dumped on table.

Reducing salt intake requires more than cutting out the shaker.

TooFarNorth/Flickr

When it comes to salt, we are just eating way too much of the stuff.

How much? Try 1 1/2 teaspoons a day for the average American. That works out to about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, 1,100 milligrams more than the recommended maximum.

Too much sodium raises the risk for high blood pressure and, in turn, heart disease and stroke. For people with congestive heart failure, a salty hot dog can trigger a trip to the hospital.

But even if you want to cut down on salt, it's pretty hard to do because the vast majority of it in Americans' diets comes from processed foods and restaurant fare. Cajoling over the past four decades hasn't made a dent.

Those facts make reducing salt consumption a public health problem that calls for government action, says a report just out from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. The experts say the new target for sodium intake should be set at 1,500 milligrams daily.

To reach that goal the Food and Drug Administration should regulate salt in food and gradually lower the amount that's allowed, the IOM report says. One of the report's editors, by the way, is Dr. Jane Henney, the first female FDA commissioner.

People get used to lots of salt and like its flavor-enhancing qualities — up to a point. But it's also the case that people can grow accustomed to eating less salt, if the amount is decreased a bit at a time.

The Washington Post reports the FDA is working on a plan to ratchet down on salt. But it's new regulatory ground and will take a while. "This is a 10-year program," an unnamed source told the Post. "This is not rolling off a log. We're talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We're talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people."

A recent analysis figures that cutting salt consumption by a half-teaspoon a day could save at least 44,000 American lives a year.

Update: The FDA said in a statement that the Post's story "leaves a mistaken impression that the FDA has begun the process of regulating the amount of sodium in foods. The FDA is not currently working on regulations nor have they made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods at this time."

Instead, the agency said it would review the recommendations of the IOM report and that the Department of Health and Human Services would be putting together a working group to consider what steps to take.

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