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Tossing out the salt shaker may not be enough for your heart health. Most of the salt that Americans consume comes from processed foods and restaurant meals, a new study finds.

In a sampling of 450 U.S. adults, only 10 percent of salt, or sodium, in their diet came from food prepared at home. About half of that was added at the table.

Instead, restaurant meals and store-bought foods — including crackers, breads and soups — accounted for 71 percent of salt intake, the study found.

“Care must be taken when food shopping and eating out to steer clear of higher-sodium foods,” said lead researcher Lisa Harnack.

For prevent harmful high blood pressure, Americans are advised to limit salt intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily, said Harnack, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. That’s the equivalent of one teaspoon.

But, more than eight out of 10 Americans exceed this limit “by a mile,” she said.

Food diaries from study participants showed that about 3,500 mg of sodium was consumed a day on average.

The report was published online May 8 in the journal Circulation.

Kathryn Foti, an epidemiologist who wasn’t involved in the study, pointed out that high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke in the United States.

“Reducing salt reduces blood pressure and can help prevent cardiovascular disease,” said Foti, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

“The most effective way to reduce salt is to reduce the content in commercially processed and prepared foods,” added Foti, co-author of an accompanying journal editorial.

She said gradual, voluntary reductions across the food supply could have a large public health benefit.

“Reducing average sodium intake by as little as 400 mg per day could prevent up to 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes annually,” she said.

The American Heart Association has launched a sodium-reduction campaign to encourage food companies…



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