A recent study shows that lowering sodium consumption as a population could stop hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Around 90 percent of Americans consume more sodium than they should, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American consumes over 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. But the CDC recommends no more than 2,300 mg daily, and about half of the U.S. population should have no more than 1,500 mg because of their age or other risk factors.
Higher sodium intake increases the risk of high blood pressure, and that can lead to other adverse health effects, such as heart disease and stroke, which are the nation’s first and fourth leading causes of death. According to new research from the Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition & Chronic Disease Group, eating too much salt contributes to 2.3 million deaths from heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases — representing 15 percent of all deaths from these causes.
The CDC has found that other populations, such as strict vegetarians and non-Western countries that consume lower levels of sodium, have not reported the increase in blood pressure with age seen in most Western countries. And when salt consumption is reduced, a person’s blood pressure begins decreasing within weeks on average.
So why are Americans consuming so much sodium?
As we grow accustomed to higher levels of sodium, it also takes more to satisfy our taste for it. “Our taste buds become desensitized to it after a while, so we need more and more salt to get that same taste that we really like,” Herrington says.
Another problem is that sodium isn’t just in the obvious places, like packaged and processed foods. “Even if it’s something healthy, like we think of a sandwich or a healthy fast food restaurant — it’s going to have tons of sodium in there,” Herrington says. “They’ve got to make it taste good; they have to preserve their food and make sure it doesn’t go bad either.”
According to the CDC, more than 40 percent of sodium intake comes from these 10 types of foods: breads and rolls, lunch meats (such as deli ham or turkey), pizza, poultry, soups, cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, cheese, pasta, meat dishes (such as meat loaf), and snack foods (such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn).
Herrington also pointed out other unlikely sources of sodium such as cereals, “healthier” canned foods such as beans or canned vegetables, and condiments like ketchup and barbeque sauce as well as salad dressings.
“If we start cutting out these high sodium foods,” Herrington says, “you’re going to see an increase in longevity; you’re going to see an increase in overall health after so many years.”
Most Americans could benefit from less sodium in their diets. So start now with these 11 ways to kick the salt habit.