WASHINGTON – Think cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner is stressful? Something else is far more likely to raise your blood pressure: salt hidden in all those goodies.
Don’t blame the chef. Much of that salt was hidden from him or her, too.
Americans eat nearly two teaspoons of salt daily, more than double what they need for good health – and it’s not because of the table salt-shaker. Three-fourths of that sodium comes inside common processed foods like stuffing mix, gravy, and, yes, pumpkin pie.
Even raw turkey, which is naturally low in sodium, sometimes is injected with salt water before it reaches the store, a lot more salt than a home cook might sprinkle on. You have to read the brand’s fine print to tell.
Now public health specialists are pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to require food makers to cut the sodium. In a hearing set for next week, they will call the government intervention crucial to fighting heart disease.
“There’s just a growing scientific consensus that current levels of salt in the diet are one of the biggest health threats to the public,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that filed the FDA petition triggering the meeting.
The AMA says cutting in half the sodium in processed and restaurant foods within 10 years could wind up saving 150,000 lives annually.
The grocery industry knows there’s a problem: Food makers and CSPI put aside their differences for an unprecedented, closed-door meeting on how to reduce sodium last month. And the salt content of many foods has inched down in recent decades.
One in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, and almost 1 billion people worldwide. Hypertension in turn is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. And while being overweight and inactive raises blood pressure, too much salt is a big culprit as well.