March 26, 2009 -- Americans already eat way more than the recommended amount of salt, and now the CDC finds that even lower recommendations apply to 70% of us.
New data show that the average U.S. adult consumes one-and-a-half teaspoons of salt every day. That's a half teaspoon more than the basic daily recommendation of one teaspoon (about 2,300 milligrams of sodium).
But the recommendation is much lower for people with high blood pressure, people over 40, and all African-American adults. These groups should be eating no more than two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt (about 1,500 milligrams of sodium) per day.
More than two out of three Americans -- some 145.5 million of us -- are in those categories, the CDC now calculates.
Seven out of 10 U.S. adults get 2.3 times the healthy amount of salt. It's putting us in a world of hurt, says Darwin Labarthe, MD, PhD, director of the CDC's division for heart disease and stroke prevention.
"This is a very important message," Labarthe tells WebMD. "There is no room for debate any longer that a high level of salt causes stroke and heart disease, and that lowering salt intake will diminish these very serious health consequences."
When you eat salt, your blood pressure goes up. And high blood pressure dramatically increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Recent studies definitively show that people who eat too much salt significantly increase their risk of stroke and heart disease.
This isn't exactly news. Ancient Chinese manuscripts describe a link between salt intake and high blood pressure. Yet over the last two decades, Americans' salt intake has gone up and up.
Where's all that salt coming from? No, it's neither the salt shaker on the table nor the box of salt next to the stove.
"Most of the salt in our diet comes from processed and manufactured foods," Labarthe says. "Only a small fraction comes from salt added to food at the table or to home cooking."
The American Heart Association says up to 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed foods such as tomato sauce, soup, condiments, canned foods, and prepared mixes.
Salt isn't the only high-sodium chemical in our diet -- there's also baking soda, baking powder, and MSG. And on food labels, you'll see it in a myriad of other ingredients such as disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, and so on.
We've got a taste for salt -- but that can change very quickly. The irony is that while we are hurting our health with too much salt, food with much less salt starts tasting good -- if not better -- after only a few days.
"Recommendations from groups like the American Medical Association have called for a 50% reduction of salt in over 10 years," Labarthe says. "A gradual reduction is virtually unrecognized and can be accomplished with no change in the tastefulness of foods."
Congress has directed the CDC to engage the services of the prestigious Institute of Medicine to address the question of how to lower the amount of salt in the U.S. food supply.
"This will bring about recommendations for changes in the food industry. There are people in the industry who are very interested in this," Labarthe says. "We are very optimistic that with the heightened concern of the public and Congress, we will see change on this in the near future."
The CDC report appears in the March 27 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Are the foods you eat high in sodium? Find out in WebMD's Salt Shockers slideshow.