Salt levels in processed and fast foods remain dangerously high, despite calls for the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels, new research shows.
For a study, researchers assessed the sodium content in selected processed foods and in fast-food restaurants in 2005, 2008, and 2011 and found sodium content is as high as ever.
“The voluntary approach has failed,” says Stephen Havas, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The study demonstrates that the food industry has been dragging its feet and making very few changes. This issue will not go away unless the government steps in to protect the public. The amount of sodium in our food supply needs to be regulated.”
Excess sodium prematurely kills as many as 150,000 people in the US each year. About 90 percent of the US population develops high blood pressure and high salt in the diet is a major cause. High blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart attacks and strokes, often resulting in death or disability.
“High salt content in food benefits the food industry,” Havas says. “High salt masks the flavor of ingredients that are often not the best quality and also stimulates people to drink more soda and alcohol, which the industry profits from.”
A typical American consumes an average of almost two teaspoons a day of salt, vastly higher than the recommended amount of three-fifths of a teaspoon or no more than 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the American Heart Association. About 80 percent of our daily sodium consumption comes from eating processed or restaurant foods. Very little comes from salt we add to food.
“The only way for most people to meet the current sodium recommendation is to cook from scratch and not use salt,” Havas says. “But that’s not realistic for most people.”