Less Salt Is Often Still Too Much
Studies show U.S. adults eat 3,300 mg of sodium per day on average. That's the "high" level used in this study. Current government standards recommend 2,400 mg a day, the medium level studied. However, the researchers found continued benefits when people ate only 1,500 mg of sodium per day, well below currently recommended levels.
One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. However, that last sprinkle of salt isn't the real problem, Vollmer says. Processed foods are the greatest source of sodium in the American diet, and most of this sodium is hidden. People don't even realize how much salt they're eating. "The best way to lower salt intake is to buy fewer processed foods," he says. "This has the added advantage that it will also lower sugar and fat intake, since processed foods also tend to be high in those ingredients as well."
He's also concerned about possible pressure to remove sodium content from the labels of processed foods, since this labeling is essential in aiding consumers to choose foods wisely.
"Fast food restaurants are one of the greatest contributors to a high-salt diet," Joanne Keaveney, RD, tells WebMD. "If you currently go there once a week, try to cut down to once a month. You can get above the recommended daily intake just by having a large hamburger and fries for lunch." Keaveney is a dietician at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, in Boston.
She warns that other foods high in sodium include frozen dinners, olives, cheese, and canned soups. "Chinese food is very high in salt, too, and many people don't realize this," she says. "They say 'hold the MSG' and think they've solved the problem, but the meal is still loaded with sodium."
The more fresh foods you buy, she says, the healthier you'll be. "People get in trouble because they stop off to get a fast-food sausage and biscuit on the way to work -- that's already 2,000 mg of salt. Suppose you got a bagel instead? ... That's only 50 mg. Or eat a cut-up apple and granola -- that's still under 100."