Slowly step away from the shaker. The federal government's most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge people to significantly reduce their sodium consumption, recommending no more than a teaspoon of salt per day, or roughly 2,300 milligrams.
People who are most at risk for high blood pressure, including those 51 or older, blacks and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, are advised to limit salt to about half a teaspoon daily, or 1,500 milligrams.
The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, with 30- to 39-year-olds consuming about 4,400 milligrams. Most of it comes from processed foods and restaurant meals, such as the Admiral's Feast at Red Lobster with 4,300 milligrams of sodium or the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes at McDonald's with 2,260 milligrams of sodium.
"The research led to the conclusion that the higher an individual's sodium intake, the higher an individual's blood pressure," says Dr. Robert Post of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About a third of the population has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition makes the heart work harder and can lead to stroke, kidney disease and heart disease.
"A goal of the dietary guidelines is to address the current statistics for trends toward diet-related chronic illness," Post says.
Soon after the USDA released the guidelines, the Institute of Medicine released a statement advising stricter federal standards for the amount of salt that food manufacturers, restaurants and food-service companies can add to their products.
But the Salt Institute, a trade association that represents salt companies, says that even the guidelines go too far, and is lobbying for the federal government to revise the sodium recommendations, which it calls "dangerously low." Lori Roman, the institute's president says, "The dietary guidelines on sodium are absolutely not based on the preponderance of scientific evidence."
But the USDA stands by its claims. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a team of the nation's top epidemiology and nutrition research experts, reviewed about 2,000 manuscripts, which are publically available at nutritionevidencelibrary.gov , to shape the recommendations.
"All of the information that we would consider goes through a process of systematic evidence-based review," says Post, adding that the new guidelines "represent a strong science foundation."