salt shaker
Diet & Nutrition

Are You Eating More Salt Than You Realize? Probably

Experts from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bring you up to date on a crucial health issue:

Do you try to be careful about the amount of salt in your diet? Are you pretty sure you’re eating about the right amount of salt (also known as sodium chloride) every day, according to what most experts recommend?

You may be wrong about that.

Even if you throw your salt shaker away, you may still be taking in a lot of sodium — especially if you eat processed or prepared foods. In fact, the majority of sodium in the daily American diet comes from such foods, which are often found on supermarket shelves and in restaurant meals.

That’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to foods. The FDA has released a draft guidance for industry that would set voluntary goals for reducing sodium levels in processed and prepared foods. The targets focus on the sodium added to your foods by manufacturers and restaurants before you eat them—not on the salt you add on your own either when cooking or at the table.

The goal is to help consumers gradually reduce their daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. That’s about roughly one teaspoon of salt, the daily consumption amount recommended in federal dietary guidelines. Today, Americans consume an average 3,400 mg per day—almost 50 percent more than is generally recommended. That’s putting their health at risk.

“It’s no easy task for consumers to consume the recommended amount of sodium in their diets,” says Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “We want to help reduce the amount of sodium across the entire food supply by setting reasonable goals.”

“There are few interventions that could potentially have as great an overall benefit to public health,” says Mayne.

Why is Too Much Sodium a Serious Problem?

The words “sodium” and “salt” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a difference. The salt you sprinkle onto your meal or add while cooking is a crystal-like compound (40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride); sodium, a mineral, is one of the elements found in salt. Salt is how sodium is most often consumed: Between personal use and the salt added to processed and prepared foods, at least 95 percent of the sodium in your diet comes in the form of salt.

Sodium (which the body needs a certain amount of to function properly) occurs naturally in many foods, including celery, beets and milk. And as a food ingredient, sodium — whether from salt or other sodium-containing ingredients — has many uses, such as thickening, enhancing flavor, and preserving foods.

The problem: too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Reducing sodium in foods could prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses over a decade.