Reduce Your Salt Intake and Improve Your Health

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The average person in the United States consumes much more sodium (salt) than recommended, with most of it coming from processed, packaged and prepared foods.

While sodium makes food taste better, it also contributes to high blood pressure, elevating risk of heart attack and stroke. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced voluntary guidelines for food makers and restaurants to cut sodium content by 12 percent over the next 2½ years.

Reducing sodium intake could prevent thousands of deaths a year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure contributes to 500,000 deaths a year in the United States.

Average sodium intake is 3,400 milligrams a day -- far higher than the recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon), according to the FDA.

A Modest Goal, First

Many people don’t know the amount of sodium in foods they eat. Pizza, breads, cured meats, cheese and soups are among foods that typically contain a lot of sodium. A popular chain restaurant, for example, lists one slice of pepperoni pizza as containing 1,459 milligrams of sodium.

The FDA said its goal is to help Americans reduce their average daily intake to 3,000 milligrams. That’s above the recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams. But the new guidelines for the food industry are a good start, says UH cardiologist Ian Neeland, MD.

“The FDA is trying to make a population-level change in order to promote a major improvement in blood pressure control, and therefore have better outcomes in stroke and cardiovascular disease. This newest recommendation is one way to initiate that change,” Dr. Neeland says.

People would do well to follow 2,300-milligram guideline, but policy-level changes are likely to be more successful with a more modest approach, he says.

“A dramatic change might not be acceptable to people, and it might not stick,” Dr. Neeland says. “I think going step by step is very reasonable.

“There’s salt in everything, processed food, restaurant food. It’s not an easy thing to decrease it by even 12 percent.”

Read, Read, Read

Knowing how much salt is in the food we eat can be challenging, especially when eating out. Look for restaurants that post nutrition information on their web sites an menus. Read labels at the grocery store. Ask for low-sodium recommendations at restaurants.

“Whatever you buy, if you want to be aware of what you’re putting into your body, pay attention to the nutritional content and also the serving size,” Dr. Neeland says.

“The most control you have is making your own meals, with a healthy dose of fresh fruits and vegetables, choosing spices that are low-sodium or sodium-free. The good news is there are many resources out there for people who want to take control and more informed about their health and diet.”

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UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute offers more options for cardiovascular care close to home with multiple locations across Northern Ohio. Ongoing investments in our local facilities ensure our team has the latest tools and therapies available to continue to deliver truly personalized care for patients where and when they need it most. Learn more about cardiovascular care at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

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