Without seeing any facts and figures, most of us will admit we use too much salt.
The food we buy is loaded with the stuff -- and most of us dump more of it on as we sit at the table.
But exactly how much is too much? According to research presented at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2013 Scientific Sessions, 75% of the world's population consumes nearly twice the daily recommended amount of salt.
Global sodium intake from commercially prepared food, table salt, salt and soy sauce added during cooking averaged nearly 4,000 mg a day in 2010.
The World Health Organization recommends limiting intake to less than 2,000 mg a day and the American Heart Association recommends staying under 1,500 mg a day.
"This study is the first time that information about sodium intake by country, age and gender is available," said Saman Fahimi, M.D., M.Phil., lead author and a visiting scientist in the Harvard School of Public Health's epidemiology department in Boston, Mass. "We hope our findings will influence national governments to develop public health interventions to lower sodium."
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world; excess sodium intake raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the major contributors to the development of cardiovascular disease.
Among women and men, average sodium intake exceeded healthy levels in almost all countries, researchers said. Kazakhstan had the highest average intake at 6,000 mg per day, followed by Mauritius and Uzbekistan at just less than 6,000 mg per day.
Kenya and Malawi had the lowest average intake at about 2,000 mg per day. In the US, the average intake was about 3,600 mg a day.
Way too much
One hundred eighty-one of 187 countries, representing 99 percent of the world's population, exceeded the World Health Organization's recommended sodium intake of less than 2,000 mg a day; and 119 countries, representing 88 percent of the world's population, exceeded this recommended intake by more than 1,000 mg a day. All countries except Kenya exceeded the American Heart Association recommended sodium intake of less than 1,500 mg a day.
The researchers analyzed 247 surveys of adult sodium intake to estimate sodium intake, stratified by age, gender, region and nation between 1990 and 2010 as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, which is an international collaborative study by 488 scientists from 303 institutions in 50 countries around the world.
What’s a consumer to do?
When shopping for food, consumers can read food labels and choose foods that are lower in sodium.
The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages lists the “Percent Daily Value (%DV)” of sodium in one serving of a food, based on 2,400 mg per day. The %DV tells you whether a food contributes a little or a lot to your total daily diet. Foods providing 5%DV or less of sodium per serving are considered low in sodium and foods providing 20%DV or more of sodium per serving are considered high. But remember, all of the nutrition information on the label is based upon one serving of the food and many packaged foods have more than one serving.
It is recommended that consumers not exceed 100% of the daily value for sodium and those advised to limit intake to 1,500 mg per day should aim for about 65% of the daily value.
Consumers can also be aware of the sources of sodium in their diet. In a report issued in February 2012, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified these 10 foods as the greatest sources of sodium:
- breads and rolls
- luncheon meat, such as deli ham or turkey
- poultry, fresh and processed -- (Much of the raw chicken bought from a store has been injected with a sodium solution.)
- cheeseburgers and other sandwiches
- cheese, natural and processed
- pasta dishes
- meat dishes, such as meat loaf with gravy
- savory snack foods, such as potato chips, pretzels and popcorn
And how do you know how much sodium is in the food served at your favorite restaurant? Fasano notes that many chain restaurants are putting the nutritional content of their foods -- including calories, fats, sodium and sugars -- on their Websites, or it’s available by asking for it.
The Food and Drug Administration has created a number of online resources to help consumers reduce their sodium intake. They include:
- A Sodium Reduction Website provides links to resources on how to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet.
- A Sodium Education Website offers consumer advice on how to use the Nutrition Facts Label to reduce sodium intake.
- The Spot the Block campaign challenges tweens from 9 to 13 to use the Nutrition Facts Label (the "block") to make healthy food choices.