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Dr Russ Blog - Salt II
Salt II
Created on 1/22/2010

S is frustrated. She knows she needs to watch her sodium / salt intake, but notes that even the "healthy" items she picks up can have upwards of 400 mg of sodium per serving. She writes in to the blog wondering what can be done.

S' frustration is felt by many of us, and is underscored by a study just published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Bibbins-Domingo and her fellow researchers.

As you may recall, last month I discussed a research article that showed how a worldwide decrease in salt / sodium intake could translate into significant savings in lives lost to vascular disease (stroke and heart disease). The latest study results are specific to the US.

The researchers state that the average US man takes in over 10g of salt per day, the average woman over 7g per day. This even though medical experts have long recommended no more than 5.8g of salt (2,300 mg sodium) per day from all sources, and a lower amount (3.7g of salt) for most adults. 

A decrease in daily salt intake of 3g (1,200 mg sodium) was estimated to save hundreds of thousands of lives with an impact similar to a 50% decrease in the incidence of smoking.

Even a 1g decrease in daily salt intake was shown to be beneficial to health (1g = 1,000 mg).

The American Heart Association's web site shows the FDA labeling guidelines regarding sodium to be:
  • Sodium-free – less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium – usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent 
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt – made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself
Per the FDA and USDA, an individual food that has the claim "healthy" must not exceed 480 mg sodium per reference amount. "Meal type" products must not exceed 600 mg sodium per labeled serving size.

It is estimated that 75-80% of salt in the US diet comes from processed foods. Taking the FDAs meal product guidelines into account, you can see how even eating "healthily" we can get plenty of sodium in our diets (common salt comes in the form of sodium chloride). What can be done?

Countries around the world have lowered their population's salt intake through a combination of regulations on the salt content in processed foods, labeling of processed and prepared foods, public education, and collaboration with the food industry. The same thing can, and should, happen here.

Until there are widespread changes in the laws regarding salt / sodium content of foods, be sure to read your food labels carefully, choose low sodium options wherever possible, and leave the salt shaker empty.

And be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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