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Cutting Back on Salt in Processed Foods

CardioSmart News

Despite reductions in the sodium content of processed foods over the past 15 years, most Americans still consume too much salt, based on a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Excessive sodium intake has become a major public health concern over the past few decades. While we know too much salt increases risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, an estimated 90% of U.S. children and adults exceed sodium guidelines. Most of this salt comes from processed and restaurant foods, which are popular among U.S. families.

Thanks to efforts like the National Salt Reduction Initiative, companies like Nestle and General Mills have pledged to reduce the sodium content of their foods. This initiative was started in 2009 with the goal of reducing sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years.

To see how we’re doing, researchers analyzed data from the Nielson Homescan Consumer Panel, which tracked grocery purchases among U.S. households from 2000–2014. The study used bar code scanning of supermarket receipts to record packaged food purchases among 172,042 households.

The good news is that from 2000 to 2014, the amount of sodium that households got from packaged foods decreased by nearly 400 mg a day. The sodium content of packaged food purchases also decreased by 12% over this same period. Researchers note that significant reductions were noted in high-sodium foods, such as condiments, sauces, dips and salty snacks.

However, authors also found that more than 98% of households still had packaged food purchases that exceeded guidelines for sodium density. That means the ratio of sodium to total calorie content was still higher than dietary guidelines recommend.

Authors note that their study did not assess restaurant foods, which is a major source of sodium in the American diet.

The take-home message, according to authors, is that we still have work to do when it comes to reducing sodium consumption. While we’ve made significant progress in reducing the sodium content of processed foods, it hasn’t been enough to completely change the U.S. diet. Most Americans continue to consume too much salt, and additional efforts are needed to reduce sodium consumption and improve public health.

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