An overwhelming majority of Americans are consuming too much salt and it’s not because they’re adding it themselves.
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that roughly 90 percent of people in the United States — regardless of age, race, or gender — consume more than the 2,300 mg daily recommended amount of sodium. That’s only a teaspoon of table salt.
These findings come after CDC researchers analyzed information from nearly 15,000 people from the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden called it “alarming” that nine out of 10 adults and children consume too much salt.
“The evidence is clear: too much sodium in our foods leads to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” Frieden said in a press release. “Reducing sodium in manufactured and restaurant foods will give consumers more choice and save lives.”
In fact, three out of four people at highest risk of developing heart disease — over the age of 51, African Americans, and individuals with high blood pressure or pre-hypertension — consume more than the recommended 2,300 mg a day.
The CDC says that 86 percent of people with hypertension still consume too much sodium even though they ingest less salt than people without the condition.
Where Americans Get Their Sodium
Dr. Chauncey Crandall, director of preventive medicine at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Florida, said the average American consumes about five to 10 times what our bodies need.
“The problem is that salt is found everywhere, and that even if you toss away the salt shaker — which you should do — you’ll be still taking in too much salt because it’s a key ingredient in processed foods,” he told Healthline. “Even foods that taste sweet, like cakes and puddings, often contain salt.”
More than three quarters of salt in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant food.
According to the CDC, the biggest sodium offenders are:
- breads and rolls
- cold cuts and cured meats
Because sodium is so ubiquitous in the American diet, the CDC says a key strategy in lowering sodium intake is to reduce the sodium in the food supply, which some food companies have already begun doing. Many processed foods are now available in lower sodium versions.
Sandra Jackson, an author of the new CDC report and an epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, says reducing sodium is an important factor in preventing heart disease and stroke.
“Reducing sodium is an achievable and effective strategy to improve heart health for everyone, but it’s going to take all of us working together to make it possible,” she said in a press release.
How to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet
The easiest ways to avoid excess sodium in your diet is to limit the number of meals relying on processed foods and visit restaurants less often.
Samantha Finkelstein, a San Francisco-based registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Nerdy Girl Nutrition, says the more we eat salt, the less sensitive our taste buds become.
“This means if you are used to eating heavily salted foods, something with less salt than you are used to consuming may taste bland, which can result in over-salting,” she told Healthline.
Finkelstein recommends cooking most of your meals at home, limiting the salt you use, and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
“This doesn't mean food has to be tasteless. I recommend using herbs and spices to take the place of salt,” she said. “You can use any combination of herbs and spices, or you can buy pre-mixed salt-free spice blends, like Mrs. Dash, or any others.”
Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, recommends substituting bottled marinades with citrus juice and olive oil.
“Instead of reaching for the pre-made marinade that is packed with salt, let meat soak in a mix of olive oil and citrus juice such as lemon or lime to get the rich flavor without the added sodium,” she told Healthline.
Other tips Ficek has are boiling shiitake mushrooms in water for 30 minutes to replace beef or chicken broth and using tomato puree instead of tomato sauce.
“Tomato puree is a bit thicker and is even a little bit cheaper. Almost every recipe you use tomato sauce, you can substitute tomato puree. It only has about 20 mg sodium per serving,” she said.