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Most Americans Should Eat Less Salt: Report

But too little salt may also cause health problems, report authors add

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- Most Americans should consume less salt, but too little salt can also cause health problems for some, a new report says.

The problem is that there is scant evidence for determining exactly how much salt is too much and how little is too little, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee that penned the report, which was released Tuesday.

"Studies have looked at efforts to lower excessive salt intake, but raised questions about harm from too little salt," explained IOM committee chair Dr. Brian Strom, a professor of public health and preventive medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

So, although the report supports current U.S. dietary guidelines on salt consumption, it does not determine whether those suggested limits could or should be lower.

"Unfortunately, the message is a mixed message, which is deliberate on our part and reflects the mixed data," Strom said. "We clearly support that, in general, eating too much salt is harmful. [But] we are raising questions about the harm from too little salt."

The right balance of salt, however, isn't known. "As a committee, we did not provide a target range of what the right amount should be," Strom said.

Specifically, the committee looked at the amount of salt recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which say most people aged 14 to 50 should limit their daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg).

However, for more than 50 percent of Americans -- those aged 51 or older, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease -- those same guidelines say that salt intake should be limited to 1,500 mg a day.

"Most Americans come nowhere near the low end of salt consumption," Strom noted.

Despite efforts by the public health community to get people to use less salt, most Americans still consume an average of 3,400 mg or more of salt a day. That is about 1.5 teaspoons of salt, according to the IOM committee.

Only about 11 percent of the salt people eat comes from the salt shaker, added IOM committee member Dr. Joachim Ix, an associate professor of medicine at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System in California.

"The lion's share of salt that's consumed is in the food people are taking in already. A large part of that is in processed foods and foods eaten outside of the home," Ix noted.

Another expert agreed.

"We usually think of sodium as table salt," said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "But many foods are unexpectedly high in sodium, including sweets, breads and cereals," she noted.

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