Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability in California. A major risk factor for heart disease and stroke is high blood pressure (or hypertension). Ninety percent of adults will develop high blood pressure in their lifetimes. Consumption of salt in the diet is directly linked with high blood pressure. Medical experts estimate that reducing salt intake by three grams could save as many as 8,800 lives in California each year. Such a daily reduction could also reduce the number of new cases of coronary heart disease by 11 percent and new cases of stroke by as much as 15 percent each year.
Our bodies need salt to function, but too much can be harmful. Our daily salt intake has increased by more than 50% over the past few decades. Sodium is the component of salt that affects blood pressure. 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults in general should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (one teaspoon) per day; however, if you are in the following population groups, you should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day (approximately 2/3 teaspoon), and meet the potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day) with food:
- 40 years of age or older
- African American
- high blood pressure
- chronic kidney disease.
By limiting salt intake we can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Even people with normal blood pressure can benefit from limiting their salt intake.
Most people consume two to three times more sodium than is recommended in the current dietary guidelines, but this is not by choice. Only 11 percent of the salt in our food products comes from what we add; 77 percent of the salt we consume is added to food during processing. Thus, it is extremely difficult for individuals to reduce salt intake on their own.
The cardiovascular health of Californians can be improved on many fronts. The reduction of sodium content in manufactured and restaurant foods is a key component for success and one that lies within industry’s control. Americans eat 30 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food than individuals living in nearly all other countries.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) is a national effort to prevent heart attacks and strokes by reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods. The NSRI goal is to reduce salt intake by 20 percent over the next five years, with a 10-year goal of a 40-percent reduction in population salt intake. The California Department of Public Health is a supporter of the NSRI.
Eating less sodium can help prevent, lower, or even control blood pressure. The DASH plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), demonstrated that high blood pressure can be significantly reduced by a healthy eating plan. The DASH plan is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. It also focuses on reducing salt and sodium intake.