The Assault on Salt

Most American men consume about 11 grams of salt every day. It's one of our basic tastes, and it's in just about everything we eat.

Although we do need some salt to live, many doctors say those 11 grams -- less than two teaspoons a day -- are killing 150,000 people each year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and doctors have declared a renewed attack in the war on salt. This attack is aimed at restaurants that overuse it and the manufacturers that liberally use salt to process food.

The push is also an attempt to educate consumers, who, for the most part, are oblivious to the amount of salt in their food.

War On Salt
War On Salt

According to Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard who is at the forefront of the war on salt, the food industry and our own taste buds have contributed to our salt consumption.

"If we like the taste of salt, it's a Catch-22," he said.

Sacks said that as more and more salt is added to food, people become accustomed to the taste.

"Then they'll add more and more of it to give people that jolt," he said. "In a way, it's kind of like a narcotic."

Sacks recently completed a study on the effects of salt on blood pressure. As most people know, too much salt can lead to an increase in blood pressure. He said that if Americans reduced their salt intake by half, it could revolutionize health care.

According to Sacks, a 50-percent reduction would "pretty much wipe out most heart attacks and strokes."

But with salt lurking in everyday foods such as bread, cold cuts and ketchup, that is easier said than done.

"Bread contains the highest amount of sodium in processed food," said Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist. "We need the salt to form the texture to preserve the bread, and so forth."

Keeping an eye on sodium count is as easy as examining food labels, Cheung said.

"The lesson is [that] we need to read the label carefully," Cheung said. "Pause, take a look and read."

Americans Consume Way Too Much Salt

The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

However, Americans on average consume nearly three times that much. The average TV dinner contains 1,680 mg of sodium, more than one day's worth. A box of Lunchables, a favorite with kids, has almost half of the daily sodium intake for an adult.

Beyond the grocery store, there's also the problem of dining out. In 2009, the Center for Science in the Public Interest called out the Red Lobster food chain for the "Admiral's Feast," a combination platter of deep-fried seafoods that contained nearly three times a day's worth of sodium at 4,400 mg.

Olive Garden isn't much better: Its "Tour of Italy" dish of lasagna, chicken parmesan and alfredo has more than two days' worth of salt, 3,830 mg.

Darden Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Red Lobster and Olive Garden said it is looking at reducing the amount of salt it uses in its restaurants as part of a broader effort to provide healthier fare.

When asked if it would be preferable for government to mandate the amount of sodium restaurants can include in their food, Sacks said he would prefer it to be a voluntary movement, although he was skeptical it would be successful.

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