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Hold the salt
February 7th, 2012
03:19 PM ET

Hold the salt

Nine out of ten adult Americans eat too much salt each day, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's not what we add at the dinner table that's the problem.

People are consuming high amounts of salt in processed foods and at restaurants.  High sodium levels increase blood pressure, putting people at higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

"These diseases kill more than 800,000 Americans each year and contribute an estimated $273 billion in health care costs," says CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

The CDC found that 10 types of foods accounted for more than 40% of the sodium people consumed. They are:

1) Breads and rolls
2) Deli lunch meats
3) Pizza
4) Poultry
5) Soups
6) Cheeseburgers and other sandwiches
7) Cheese
8) Pasta mixed dishes
9) Meat mixed dishes
10) Snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips and popcorn

Even though some of these foods are not high in sodium, eating multiple servings raises our salt levels.

On average, adults in the United States eat more than 3,300 milligrams of salt daily. And for many this is twice the amount experts suggest.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day. African Americans, people over 50 years of age, and those with health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease are encouraged to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. The CDC says that both adults and children are overindulging.

The report finds that two-thirds of the sodium we eat or drink comes from what we purchase in stores, whether it's our groceries or what we pick up at a convenience store. We get about 25% of our salt from what we order in restaurants.  What we add to the food we cook at home accounts for only about 5% of the salt we eat each day, according to the CDC.

Reducing sodium levels by 10% would help prevent an estimated 28,000 deaths each year, the CDC says. One way to curb salt intake is to eat more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. The next time you head to the store, look at the nutrition labels and choose items that are low in sodium. You can also schedule time with a registered dietitian to help identify foods that are high in salt and find alternatives. The heart healthy DASH eating plan is another good option.

"The key here is to find lower sodium options of the foods you love," says Frieden.

Eatocracy: Defeating sneaky salt

He says he is encouraged by the steps certain food manufacturers are taking to reduce salt levels in our foods.

"Kraft Foods has committed to an average 10% reduction of sodium in their products over a two year period, and dozens of companies have joined a national initiative to reduce sodium. The leading supplier of cheese for pizza, Leprino Foods, is actively working on providing customers and consumers with healthier options," says Frieden.

He stresses that by adjusting what we eat, choosing lower sodium items, eating more fruits and veggies, we can not only save money, but save lives.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.