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Don’t pass the salt!

published: 07-31-2013
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Sodium
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Sodium—a component of table salt—is an essential element. It helps your muscles and nerves function correctly and maintains the proper balance of your body’s fluids. However, too much sodium in your diet may increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium every day, mostly in the form of salt. But the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults limit their sodium intake to just 2,300 milligrams per day—roughly the amount in one teaspoon of table salt.

The guidelines also recommend that certain “at-risk” groups limit their sodium intake to about 1,500 mg per day: adults over the age of 51, African Americans, and people who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.

Recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) looked at the evidence supporting the current recommendations regarding sodium intake. IOM concluded:

  • Research supports current recommendations to reduce sodium intake to about 2,300 mg daily.
  • More research is needed to support the recommendation that those “at risk” should cut back to 1,500 mg or less a day.

Bottom line? If you’re in an at-risk group, speak to your doctor or registered dietitian about whether you should reduce your salt intake. For just about everyone else: Cut back on the salt.

How? Most of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods—tomato sauce, soups, canned foods, bread, and prepared mixes—but it can also come from foods naturally high in sodium—cheese and some types of seafood. Also, many restaurant foods are high in sodium, but sometimes you can request low sodium items. The best way to ensure a low sodium diet is to eat whole foods such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables; lean, unprocessed poultry and fish; unsalted nuts; whole grains; and low-fat dairy products such as skim milk or yogurt.  For more information, check out this CDC web page.

For additional information and other conclusions from the study, see the news release (which includes a link to the full study) from the National Academies.


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