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Americans unknowingly consume more than twice the recommended amount of sodium

The American Heart Association (AHA) has raised an alert: The average American is eating 3,400 mg. a day in sodium, more than double the recommended limit of 1,500 mg. Yesterday, the AHA released the results of a survey that found most Americans are unaware of their sodium consumption. Of the 1,000 survey participants, 97 percent underestimated their intake by at least 1,000 mg.

The American Heart Association identifies foods that contribute the most sodium to the American diet.
The American Heart Association identifies foods that contribute the most sodium to the American diet.
Graphic provided courtesy of the American Heart Association

Excessive sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. The AHA estimates a third of adults in the country have high blood pressure, and 90 percent of Americans will develop high blood pressure during their lifetime. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardio-vascular disease, the leading cause of death and disability worldwide.

The problem is not in the salt added from a shaker on the table — table salt is 60 percent chloride and 40 percent sodium, not straight sodium as many mistakenly believe. According to the AHA, 75 percent of the sodium consumed is hidden in processed foods. The biggest culprits are what the AHA calls the Salty Six: Breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, soup and poultry. Surprisingly, salty potato chips and pretzels are not big offenders.

“It’s challenging for Americans to stick to sodium intake recommendations because most of the sodium we eat in this country is added to our food before we buy it.” — American Heart Association President Elliott Antman, M.D.

If Americans reduced their sodium intake to less than 1,200 mg. a day, the AHA estimates it could reduce between 44,000 and 92,000 deaths annually. Additionally, the country could save as much as $24 billion in healthcare costs each year. To achieve this, the AHA has launched a new campaign urging Americans to become better informed about the salt content of the products they purchase.

The “I Love you Salt, but You’re Breaking my Heart” campaign provides consumers with information about sodium content in foods. It uses quizzes and videos to help raise awareness of the problem of excessive sodium in the American diet. Consumers wishing to decrease their risk of heart disease are encouraged to sign a pledge vowing to reduce their sodium consumption.