Let’s start by saying that salt is not the enemy. Also known as “sodium,” salt is an essential mineral that the body needs in order to regulate blood pressure, blood volume, and the healthy functioning of all muscles and nerves. Salt is one- half of a very important balance with potassium and it shares with that mineral the name “electrolyte” — both ensure a proper balance of fluids in the body.
The enemy is too much salt, which is found in a slew of items in the grocery store. We are also responsible for too much salt intake, every time we tilt the salt shaker over a plate of eggs or a sandwich.
Now for the new part: One of the world’s biggest health organizations is urging the U.S. government to place warning labels on foods that contain high levels of salt. The American Medical Association (AMA) voted last week to push the food industry into having these warning labels —
and into drastically cutting the amount of sodium in restaurant dishes and processed foods.
The goal: 50% less salt content within the decade. The reason is that we eat twice the amount of salt we need. Heart experts say that we should get less than 2,300 mg a day of salt (less than a teaspoon), but the average daily consumption in the U.S. eclipses 4,000 mg.
The AMA reports that significant evidence shows excessive salt raises your risk of hypertension and other heart conditions. Rates of heart disease and high blood pressure happen to be very high across the country. According to the Mayo Clinic, Americans’ salt intake breaks down like this:
— 5% added while cooking — 6% added while eating — 12% naturally occurring in food — 77% processed/prepared foods
When you see those numbers, it’s clear that a warning label on foods would serve a useful purpose. The AMA wants a picture of a salt shaker with the words “high” and red exclamation points on it. The colorful illustration is intended for consumers to make informed decisions at the supermarket.
For your benefit, start looking at labels — anything with more than 480 mg of sodium per serving is high. These span a range of foods, including Chinese dishes, packaged pizza, canned soups, hot dogs, and countless other offerings. Potato chips and nuts aren’t the only sources of high salt.
The AMA wants to remove salt from an official list called “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), because in high amounts it is anything but safe. The GRAS includes sugar and pepper. Steps to cut down on your salt intake include avoiding the salt shaker at home, buying fresh and whole food rather than packaged and processed food, and limiting how many times you eat out.