We Eat Too Much Salt

Lower risk of hypertension and other problems by eating less salt

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Add some salt and your meal might taste a little better. But if eating too much salt is bad for your health, is that extra splash of salt really worth it?

The majority of American adults may be eating too much salt and too little potassium.

"Limit how much salt you eat."

"The American Heart Association (AHA), Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans all recommend that Americans limit sodium [salt] intake and choose foods that contain potassium to decrease the risk of hypertension [high blood pressure] and other adverse outcomes," said Dr. Mary E. Cogswell, of the CDC, and colleagues in their recent study.

People who eat too much salt are putting themselves at risk for a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure.

"In addition to hypertension (the main cause of stroke, which is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.), consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium also may also affect kidney function and brain health over time and potentially cause heart disease," said Eve Pearson, a registered dietician who was not involved in the study.

The AHA recommends that adults eat no more than 1,500 mg of salt each day. The IOM Tolerable Upper Intake Level suggests that adults eat no more than 2,300 mg of salt each day.

Despite these recommendations, Dr. Cogswell and colleagues found that as much as 99.4 percent of adults in the United States were eating more salt than recommended by the AHA. Similarly, as much as 90.7 percent of adults were eating more salt than recommended by the IOM.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that certain adults lower their salt intake even more (less than 1,500 mg per day). These adults include African American 51 years of age and older and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.

Among these higher-risk adults, 98.8 percent were eating more than 1,500 mg of salt per day, while 60.4 percent were eating more than 3,000 mg per day - more than twice the recommended amount.

The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that adults eat 4,700 mg of potassium each day. Sadly, less than 2 percent of American adults were eating this recommended amount of potassium.

"Regardless of recommendations or sociodemographic or health characteristics, the vast majority of U.S. adults consume too much sodium and too little potassium," the authors concluded.

According to Pearson, "The primary reason Americans still eat too much sodium even though they're aware of it's ability to cause poor health is the amount of fast food, restaurant food and processed food they eat. You can eat your entire day's worth of sodium just by choosing to eat one meal away from home each day. At least at home you can control the amount of sodium you add to recipes and your food after you make it.

"Along the same lines, Americans don't consume enough potassium because they aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. According to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control in 2005, only 32.6% of the U.S. adult population surveyed consumed fruit two or more times per day, and 27.2% ate vegetables three or more times per day."

Fortunately, you can do your part to fix this problem. By looking at your food labels and limiting the amount of salt you use while cooking, you can lower your overall salt intake. It is also easy to get the daily potassium you need; eating a few bananas or sweet potatoes is one way to boost your potassium intake.

The study - which included 12,581 adults 20 years of age and older - was published in the September 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 22, 2012
Last Updated:
August 29, 2012