Nutrition-wise blog

War on salt — Report from the front lines

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. January 25, 2011

Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sodium in their food, far exceeding public health recommendations. Indeed the average American gets more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — 50 percent more than what's recommended. Statistics like this lead New York City in 2010 to declare war on salt, and many others have joined the fray. Here's a brief update on what's been happening in the war on salt:

At the urging of Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine released the groundbreaking report, "A Population-Based Policy and Systems Change Approach to Prevent and Control Hypertension." It highlighted the connection between salt and high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. The report also noted that one in three adults have high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of death.

  • The Institute of Medicine released, "Strategies to Reduce Sodium in the United States." The report concluded that standards are needed to help manufacturers and restaurants reduce sodium so that all sources in the food supply are targeted. It recommended the goal of slowly reducing sodium in processed foods in a way that would go unnoticed. This would give people time to adjust to lower levels — from a current daily average of 3,400 milligrams to the target goal of 1,500 milligrams.
  • New York City established the National Salt Reduction Initiative. This is a nationwide partnership of health organizations, states, cities, food manufacturers and restaurants to lower salt levels in commonly consumed foods. It established targets for packaged foods and for restaurant meals. Currently, 39 cities and 22 leading food companies, restaurant chains and supermarkets have signed the pledge to lower sodium in food.
  • Researchers have found that humans perceive salt in distinct phases. Each of these phases opens up opportunities to develop alternate natural ingredients that can "stand in" for sodium, thereby helping us "like" less salty food.
  • The medical media has joined the war on salt, with efforts such as Dr. Oz's "Salt Shakedown" and The Doctors' "Halt the Salt" programs highlighting creative ways to tame the taste for salt.

All of these are good first steps in the war on salt, but individuals also have to make up their minds to join this initiative. If you haven't, what's keeping you from shaking your salt habit? For those who are trying to change, share what you've been doing with fellow readers.

- Jennifer

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Jan. 25, 2011