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A Dab'll Do Ya

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A Dab'll Do Ya

North Americans are eating too much salt, reports the American Medical Association (AMA). The largest group of doctors in the US says it wants to help combat heart disease by cutting the average person's salt intake in half and placing warning labels on high-sodium foods.

North Americans are eating too much salt, reports the American Medical Association (AMA). The largest group of doctors in the US says it wants to help combat heart disease by cutting the average person’s salt intake in half and placing warning labels on high-sodium foods.

“Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of Americans. People who reduce dietary sodium intake are taking an important step in preventing future health problems,” said AMA Board Member and practising cardiologist J. James Rohack, MD.

Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. George Fodor concurs. “Most Canadians have an average of three teaspoons (15 mL) of salt each day. Although the body needs some salt to function, people generally consume significantly more salt than the suggested one teaspoon (5 mL) per day,” says Dr. Fodor.

Better Safe Than Salty?

If North Americans cut their salt intake in half, 150,000 lives a year could be saved, says Stephen Havas, MD, the AMA’s vice-president for public health. “That’s the equivalent of 400 people–enough to fill a jumbo jet–every day,” says Dr. Havas.

Table salt is widely believed to contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. However, two organizations as apparently ideologically parallel as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) disagree on salt and blood pressure.

The NIH says unequivocally, “Sodium chloride or table salt increases average levels of blood pressure.”

But the FDA labels table salt as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and points to several studies that confuse the issue.

Among those is one from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that suggests limiting sodium intake may be more dangerous than high salt intake because of the potential risks of low blood pressure. Nevertheless, the FDA declines to recommend specific daily salt intake. Instead, it says, “In the end, wise consumers will choose diets of moderation in all things” and notes that “eating less salt is not harmful.”

Most experts agree that the amount of salt essential to sustain life is tiny–about one-quarter of a teaspoon (1 mL).

Salted Away

As much as one teaspoon (5 mL) of salt may be added to the average restaurant entr?as it enhances flavour, and many prepared foods contain a similar amount per serving. Salt is also commonly added to breads, canned vegetables, and even sweets. Fortunately, food labels disclose the amount of sodium per serving.

The AMA report released in June 2006 listed some examples of commonly used foods that contain 480 mg (25 percent of the recommended intake) of salt per serving, including hot dogs, cheeseburgers, some canned soups, a slice of pepperoni pizza, and chicken chow mein.

Setting down the salt shaker isn’t enough. The key to good health in most instances is to avoid processed foods and limit your intake of restaurant foods.

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