The Salt Threat

Could salt be the next big target of health advocates?

ByABC News via logo
February 19, 2009, 5:55 AM

Nov. 29, 2007 — -- It's recommended that Americans eat a teaspoon or less of salt per day. But most of us eat about twice that much.

Later today, the Food and Drug Administration will hold hearings to discuss whether it should create warning labels or even set limits for sodium in packaged foods.

It's not the table salt you sprinkle from your shaker, but the salt hidden in everyday foods that's the real danger.

Experts say 75 percent of the sodium we consume comes from packaged foods. There are obvious ones, like salty snacks. But did you know bread, chicken broth, cheese and chocolate can be high in salt? Some TV dinners contain several times the recommended daily dose.

Too much sodium can raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease. In fact, the American medical association says cutting people's sodium intake in half could save 150,000 lives a year.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the government to limit the amount of sodium manufacturers can put in various categories of food. And it wants warning labels on high sodium products.

The food industry says it is already taking steps on its own, such as offering low sodium versions of popular products and even secretly removing sodium without telling consumers.

The FDA hasn't indicated whether it will take any action on sodium. By contrast, the British government is setting reduced sodium targets for foods and even running catchy educational ads.

Start by paying more attention to how much salt you're eating. Read labels at the grocery store and choose low-sodium alternatives.

Avoid certain foods that are notorious salt culprits, such as canned soups and meats, salted nuts, frozen dinners, salad dressings and snack foods like pretzels, potato chips and cheese.

Be careful when you cook. Substitute fresh meat and vegetables for canned alternatives. Skimp on the salty seasonings like soy and steak house. If you have to use canned products be sure to rinse and drain them first.