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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Salt: The Deadliest Ingredient In America's Food Supply



A silent killer sits on virtually every American household's dinner table. Salt — that ubiquitous spice that consumers sprinkle on everything from french fries to filet mignon — is responsible for millions of deaths and billions in health care costs every, single year. What's worse is that the problem is largely ignored by the government agencies that have the power to improve this public health crisis.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a health non-profit, the average American consumes about 4,000 milligrams of salt each day. That's almost twice as much as the 2,300 milligrams recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Dietary Guidelines. If consumers actually stuck to this 2,300 milligrams per day, it would help alleviate a lot of medical problems, but some groups say that 2,300 milligrams is still about 8,000 milligrams too high for the everyday consumer.

The American Heart Association (AHA) is one organization that's working to seriously shave down Americans' sodium intake. AHA scientists recently wrote in the journal Circulation that in order to really combat maladies like cardiovascular disease and stroke, Americans should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt daily, less than half the amount of salt that most diners swallow each day. CSPI agrees with the AHA, and both groups are calling on the USDA and HHS to incorporate this restriction into their new Dietary Guidelines, due to be released later this month.

Let's hope that the USDA and HHS consider these salt recommendations because America's addiction to sodium is as serious as a heart attack — literally. Eating too much salt — which virtually all Americans are guilty of — can contribute to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and kidney problems. About 90 percent of all Americans will develop high blood pressure at some point in their lifetimes — 90 percent! As the AHA reports, one study indicates that if Americans reduced their daily sodium intake to 1,200 milligrams, the country would reduce its health care costs by about $24 billion dollars per year.

To be fair, most of this excess sodium isn't coming from diners' salt shakers. About 77 percent of the stuff comes in the form of packaged, processed, and restaurant foods. One-half cup of Campbell's condensed Healthy Request Chicken Noodle soup contains 460 milligrams of sodium, about 20 percent of the current daily recommended salt serving (31 percent if recommendations were changed to 1,500 milligrams per day). This is how much sodium "health food" holds — the situation gets worse when looking at junk food. A McDonald's double cheeseburger carries 1,150 milligrams of sodium (pdf), about 48 percent of the current daily recommended serving (a whopping 77 percent of the daily recommended intake if guidelines were changed to 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day).

The fact is that America's salt addiction has flown under the radar for far too long, and even government agencies have given consumers the green light to go ahead and keep eating the stuff in excess. The AHA is doing its part to raise awareness about this public health crisis, but it needs help spreading the word about the dangers of salt. Altering the USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines would send a clear message that we've got to combat this salt-eating epidemic. Sign our petition asking the agencies to lower the new Dietary Guidelines' recommended sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

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