By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0508-news-sodium_WP

Restaurant foods and processed foods sold in stores accounted for about 70 percent of dietary sodium intake in three U.S. regions, a new study shows.

The average level of dietary sodium consumed per day in each region was 3,501 milligrams — over 50 percent more than the maximum 2,300 mg the American Heart Association recommends, researchers said. The 2,300 mg is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt.

Sodium is an important contributor to high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes. For more than two-thirds of U.S. adults, the maximum sodium intake recommendation is even lower — 1,500 mg per day — based on their age, race or ethnicity, or existing high blood pressure. The average American adult consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day — in part because of processed foods.

To address this serious health threat, the Institute of Medicine in 2010 recommended gradually decreasing sodium levels in commercially processed foods.

Evenly divided, 450 people in Palo Alto, California, Birmingham, Alabama, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, visited the clinic once at the beginning of the study and then kept records of daily food intake for four days that they reported to researchers in four telephone interviews. They also provided samples of salt replicating the amount they had added to food at home.

Sodium added to food outside the home was the leading source (70.9 percent) and sodium naturally in food was the next highest (14.2 percent), researchers said. Sodium from salt added during home food preparation (5.6 percent) and added to food at the table (4.9 percent) were next highest. Sodium in home tap water, dietary supplements and antacids contributed minimally (less than 0.5 percent).

DS-12112-Sodium-Graphic-Twitter+(2)

“Telling patients to lay off the salt shaker isn’t enough,” said the study’s lead researcher Lisa J. Harnack, Dr.PH., professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “If you’re aiming to limit your sodium intake to the recommended level of less than 2,300 milligrams per day, you’ll need to choose foods wisely when grocery shopping and dining out.

“For packaged foods, the nutrition fact panel may be useful in identifying lower sodium products, and for menu items, diners can request sodium content information. Also, if you frequently add salt to food at the table or in home food preparation, consider using less.”

The AHA, which has developed a sodium reduction campaign, encourages packaged food companies and restaurants to reduce sodium in their products to positively impact the health of Americans.

The study is published in the AHA journal Circulation.