Did your physician suggest cutting back on salt after your blood pressure started creeping up? If you banished the salt shaker from your dinner table, that move alone probably wasn’t enough.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere have meticulously charted the sources of sodium in the diets of 450 representative adults living in Alabama, California, and Minnesota. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The volunteers recorded everything they ate and drank for four days and provided duplicate samples of the salt they added to food to during cooking and eating. In some cases, they even turned in samples of their tap water. The result is the most detailed picture of the sources of dietary sodium in the U.S. diet in 25 years.
The men and women consumed an average of 3,501 mg of sodium from all sources. That’s about about 50 percent more than the recommended amount.
Sodium in supermarket and restaurant foods accounted for 71 percent of the total amount of sodium in their diets. That was far more than the next biggest source: the sodium naturally found in food, which amounted to 14 percent.
Next was the sodium added to foods prepared in the home, such as adding salt to boiling pasta: a daily average of about 200 mg or 6 percent of the total. Tap water, dietary supplements, and medications added less than 1 percent.
The sodium added during meals at the dinner table?
The 450 men and women in the study added a daily average of 170 mg, just 5 percent of the day’s sodium. Store-bought foods and restaurant meals provided 14 times that much! So the salt shaker seems to have a only a minor role in our sodium over-indulgence.
Other findings: The least amount of sodium consumed was by women, college graduates, the normal or underweight, and residents of California and Minnesota. Alabama residents added three to four times as much sodium to their food at the table as California and Minnesota residents.
The lesson from this study
“The sodium that we’re getting in our diet is largely coming from processed foods and from foods we eat in a restaurant,” says Wendy Post, an editor at the journal Circulation which published the study.
One way to deal with this is “for our patients to read food labels and to make smart choices when they are shopping for processed foods in the supermarket,” she suggests. Another “is for food manufacturers to decrease the amount of sodium in the products they are making.” And restaurants should “notify their clientele of what foods are potentially lower in sodium and calories.”
The American Heart Association recommends that consumers should limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day (1,500 mg for people with prehypertension or high blood pressure).
The saltiest six foods, based on earlier surveys: bread and rolls, cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches.
Source: Circulation 135: 1775-1783, 2017.
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