Everyday Foods Add Up to Major Salt Problems: CDC

Ten food types, including bread, account for higher risk of heart disease, stroke, report says

TUESDAY, Feb. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Americans still eat way too much salt, and much of it comes from dietary staples such as bread, poultry, cheese and pasta, U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said 90 percent of Americans consume too much salt on a daily basis.

Ten types of foods account for 44 percent of salt consumption, the CDC researchers said. These include bread and rolls; deli meats and cured meats; pizza; fresh and processed poultry; soups; cheeseburgers and other sandwiches; cheese; pasta dishes such as spaghetti with meat sauce; meat dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce; and salty snacks, such as pretzels, chips and popcorn.

Too much salt, the major source of dietary sodium, can raise blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease and stroke.

"Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in the United States and are largely dependent on the high rate of high blood pressure, and one of the things that's driving our blood pressure up is that most adults in this country eat or drink about twice the amount of sodium recommended," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during a noon press conference Tuesday.

"Reducing sodium across the food supply can increase consumer choice, is feasible, it can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs each year," Frieden added.

According to the report, reducing sodium by 25 percent in those 10 food types could help prevent 28,000 deaths each year and save $7 billion in health care costs. Overall salt intake would decline by 10 percent.

Because some of these foods, such as bread, are eaten several times a day, salt consumption adds up, even though an individual serving is not high in sodium.

"Cooking fresh food at home is the best way to lower sodium," said Samantha Heller, a dietitian and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.

For their estimates, CDC researchers relied on data from a 2007-2008 nutrition study of more than 7,000 Americans aged 2 years and older.

The investigators found that 65 percent of daily sodium comes from food bought in stores, and 25 percent from restaurant meals.

Excluding salt added at the table, the average American consumes about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day -- significantly more than the 2,300 milligrams recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

For people over 51 years of age, black Americans, and those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes, the recommendation is just 1,500 milligrams a day.

Manufacturers of processed foods and restaurants need to reduce salt content in their foods, the report stated.

The best way to reduce your salt intake, the researchers said, is to eat more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables without sauce and limit processed foods.

Heller suggested buying low-sodium foods, such as no-sodium canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, and using less cheese, "which can be surprisingly high in sodium."

It's important to learn which foods are high in sodium and figure them into your day, and to check food labels when shopping, Heller said. Also, limit cold cuts and processed meats.

The report, titled Vital Signs: Food Categories Contributing the Most to Sodium Consumption--United States, 2007-2008, is published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 7 early release edition.

More information

For tips on reducing salt in your diet, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Feb. 7, 2012, press conference with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn.; Feb. 7, 2012, CDC report, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online
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