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A Little Salt Can't Hurt--or Can It?

New research published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, has shown that most of the salt Americans consume actually comes from eating out at fast food places, restaurants and processed foods. Only 5 percent is added at the table. These findings come from studying the diets of about 450 individuals over a period of time. The researchers found that the study subjects consumed only 10 percent of their salt consumption in the foods they prepared at home--with half being added at the table.

But restaurant meals and processed foods, such as crackers, breads and soups, accounted for nearly three-quarters of the participant's salt intake. This study shows that just laying off the salt shaker at home isn't going to be enough to cut overuse of salt in the diets of most adults. Americans need to take a close look at what they're eating when they eat out and begin finding strategies to cut back on salt intake in these public places and in the processed foods they consume at home.

The average American adult eats and drinks more sodium each day than the recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoonful). Sodium is an important contributor to high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke and it's important that we recognize eating too much salt can lead to problems like these down the road, or in the near-term when heart disease and blood pressure problems are already present.

The study researchers found the average daily intake of sodium was about 3,501 milligrams in their test subjects. This dramatically exceeds the 1,500 mg daily limit recommended for 70 percent of American adults based on their age, race or ethnicity or current blood pressure.

In addition to restaurants and processed foods found in stores, the researchers found that the most common sources of dietary sodium were:

-Sodium naturally found in foods (14.2 percent)

-Sodium added in home food preparation (4.9 percent)

-Sodium added to food at the table (4.9 percent)

According to the American Heart Association, restaurant and prepackaged food companies must be a part of the solution to reduce sodium content in their foods and give Americans healthier options. But that won't happen until consumers vote with their wallets and stop purchasing high-salt content snacks and foods. It's ultimately up to us as purchasers and consumers to get educated on the salt content of the foods we eat and then send a message that food companies will listen to and the message must be loud and clear: We won't continue to buy their products until they reduce the salt and sugar content to healthier levels. Unfortunately, money is sometimes the only thing manufacturers and restaurateurs will listen to, so it appears it's time for us as consumers to do our part and vote with our money!

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