- A new study from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia found the average American eats enough salt each day to damage the heart muscle and make it harder to pump blood, according to Reuters. The typical intake is roughly two teaspoons of salt a day.
- A high-salt diet has been correlated with a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, killing almost one in every three people.
- The study cautions they have not found the ideal amount of salt that should be consumed each day, as some research has found similar cardiovascular risks associated with too little salt intake.
The fact that the average American eats too much salt is nothing new. Efforts have been made to reduce the amount of salt pumped into processed foods, and to educate the public about the risks of a high-sodium diet with little effect. This new study is a fresh warning that an often overlooked ingredient is in fact damaging the typical person’s heart.
The ingredient most consumers are watching out for these days is sugar. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be requiring food manufacturers to include how many grams of added sugars are in packaged foods and drinks, but the deadline has been pushed back. Still, this change to the nutrition facts panel demonstrates just how focused we are on sugar.
An excessive intake of sugar has long been linked to a rise in obesity, which is perhaps what led consumers to push back against the ingredient. Many consumers know it’s important not to eat too much sodium, but that hasn't resulted in a similar trend of going ‘low salt.’
The FDA has noted Americans consume almost 50% more sodium than what most experts recommend, resulting in one in three individuals experiencing high blood pressure, a major risk factor cause of heart disease and stroke.
Numerous researchers and nutritionists agree that reducing sodium intake in the U.S. by 1,200 mg a day could prevent as many as 60,000 to 120,000 cases of coronary heart disease and 32,000 to 60,000 cases of stroke. It also would save an estimated $10 billion to $24 billion in health-care costs and 44,000 to 92,000 lives annually.
The problem with salt is not what you find in your saltshaker, it’s the sodium you find in countless processed foods. In 1991, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition published a study that found the saltshaker delivered just 6% of a participant's sodium intake. The real culprits behind excessive sodium were processed bread, soup, crackers, chips, cookies, cheese, meat and countless other products. Sodium not only makes the processed food taste better, it also gives them an extended shelf life.
Don’t expect large food processors to see this study and volunteer to lower the amount of salt they put in their food. In Michael Moss’ book ‘Salt Sugar Fat,’ he cites that in 2010 “when the federal nutrition panel lowered its recommended daily maximum of sodium to 1,500 milligrams for the most vulnerable Americans, food manufacturers put on a full court press urging the panel to back off." Moss said Kellogg sent the U.S. Agriculture Department, which was overseeing the panel’s work, a 20-page letter "detailing all the reasons it needed salt and sodium – and in amounts that would not make the 1,500 feasible.”
This was the reaction to suggested guidelines for salt consumption. Imagine the pushback if the FDA required food processors to actually cut back on the ingredient.
The problem for food processors is their carefully crafted recipes. They have just the right balance of salt, sugar, and fat to make their item irresistible. Reduce the amount of salt, and the whole recipe gets thrown out of whack. To overhaul the product would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor that food manufacturers often are reluctant to undertake, especially if they are being forced to do it. Often times when forced to reduce one of these three ingredients, they balance the change by increasing the other two to make the product palatable. A low-salt, high-sugar, high-fat processed item is hardly a step in the right direction.
On the upside, reducing your sodium intake cannot only help reverse high blood pressure; it can also re-set your taste buds. But the decision to cut back on salt, for now, will ultimately lie with the consumer, not the food manufacturer.