Clock started at 10:00 a.m. on April 20, 2010.

Salt is perhaps the deadliest ingredient in our food supply, causing high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and other health problems.

On April 20, 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued a landmark report calling on the Food and Drug Administration to limit the amounts of sodium (from salt and other ingredients) in different food categories. The number shown here is an estimate of the number of deaths that could have been averted since that date in 2010 if Americans were consuming half as much sodium as the current 4,000 mg per day. 100,000 deaths each year could have been prevented if the FDA acted upon the IOM's recommendations.

100,000
deaths per year
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Salt, at the levels present in the diets of most people around the world, is probably the single most harmful substance in the food supply. Salt is used liberally in many processed foods and restaurant meals, with some meals containing far more than a day's worth of sodium.

Reducing sodium consumption by half would save an estimated 100,000 lives per year. That in turn would reduce medical care and other costs by roughly $1 trillion over 10 years. (Estimates based on K. Bibbins-Domingo et al. N Engl J Med 2010;362:590-9.)

The link to salt consumption

  • Consuming more salt tends to increase blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
  • Sodium intake—mostly from salt—averages about 4,000 milligrams per day—about twice the recommended amount.
  • The vast majority—€”upwards of 75 percent—€”of sodium comes from processed foods and foods eaten outside the home.
  • Many restaurant meals provide more than a whole day's worth of sodium. Thousands of packaged foods provide one-fourth or more of a day's maximum recommended intake.
  • Many health and medical organizations have advocated a 50 percent reduction in sodium in processed and restaurant foods over the next 10 years.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture have done little to reduce sodium consumption.

Recommendations

  • Consumers should choose less-salty foods.
  • Food manufacturers and restaurants should use as little salt as possible in their products.
  • Government should:
    • set gradually declining limits on the salt content of foods that provide the most salt to the average diet
    • encourage food manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily use less salt
    • require chain restaurants to put warning notices on their menus, menu boards, and brochures for foods and meals that are extra high in sodium
    • improve labeling of packaged foods to highlight those that are high in salt

 

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