Putting down the salt shaker may not be enough to help Americans reduce their sodium intake, based on a recent study that found processed and restaurant foods account for 70% of adults’ dietary sodium intake.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study assessed multiple sources of sodium intake in the typical U.S. diet. A total of 450 adults participated in the study, completing a baseline office visit to assess their health, along with four telephone interviews about their diet. During interviews, participants reported their dietary consumption over the past 24 hours and explained how their foods were prepared.
Participants included a diverse population from three different locations in the United States, including Birmingham, Alabama; Palo Alto, California; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After analysis, researchers found that salt added to food outside the home—which includes processed and restaurant foods—accounted for more than two-thirds of participants’ daily sodium intake. The highest sodium consumption from processed foods was among young adults between 18 and 29 years old.
Foods that are naturally higher in sodium were the next highest contributor, accounting for 14% of participants’ total sodium intake. That includes foods like chicken, meat, spinach and even carrots, which naturally contain some sodium.
Salt added during cooking and at the table only accounted for 5–6% of daily sodium intake.
Why does it matter? Studies have shown that consuming too much salt increases blood pressure, which is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. Current guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day, with even lower thresholds for certain adults. However, data from 2009–2012 shows that up to 94% of Americans exceed these limits. While many adults figure hiding the salt shaker is enough to reduce sodium consumption, findings suggest it won’t make a dent in most Americans’ diets.
Thus, findings support the 2010 recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which encourage reducing sodium in processed foods to reduce overall sodium intake in the United States. After all, experts argue that if the majority of our sodium is coming from processed and restaurant foods, then we’ve got to go straight to the source in order to reduce sodium intake and combat high blood pressure.