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Gov't advising Americans to cut down on salt

January 31, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The government is urging half the nation's population to slash their salt intake to a little more than half a teaspoon daily as part of a new dietary guideline.

Every five years, the government releases dietary guidelines to help consumers make smarter choices in order to stay healthy.

The salt recommendation is meant for people who are 51 and older, all African-Americans and anyone suffering from hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

That group is most at risk of having higher blood pressure due to sodium intake.

"The reason they want to cut it down is because it's very important to eat less sodium, to prevent stroke, high blood pressure, and to keep your heart healthy," said Bannan.

"The reason they want to cut it down is it's very important to eat less sodium to prevent stroke, high blood pressure, and to keep your heart healthy," explained nutrition expert Patricia Bannan.

For everyone else, the government recommends about a teaspoon a day. That amounts to 2,300 milligrams which is about one-third less than the average person usually consumes.

Several large food companies have already introduced initiatives to cut sodium and introduced low-sodium alternatives, but it's unclear if the industry will be able to cut enough to satisfy the new guidelines.

The Food and Drug Administration has said it will pressure companies to take voluntary action before it moves to regulate salt intake.

In addition to cutting down on salt, the new guideline also recommends slashing saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of calories, whereas the previous guideline advised 10 percent of calories.

So, for someone on a 2,000 calorie diet, that's 15 grams a day of saturated fat.

To put things in perspective, a big fast food burger has about 10 grams of saturated fat, and a cup of macaroni and cheese has 4.5 grams. Saturated fat comes mainly from fattier animal meat and full-fat dairy.

"About 30 percent of our calories in this country are coming from unhealthy fats and sugar," said Bannan.

That 30 percent amounts to an average of 600 empty calories each day for women and 850 calories for men. But new guidelines suggest healthier choices like produce, whole grains, fish, eggs and nuts

One component the guideline advises for us to increase rather than cut is fiber.

"We're getting about half as much as we should of fiber a day. The recommendation is about 25 grams for women and 38 grams a day for men," Bannan said.

Since studies are done on naturally occurring fiber, try getting yours in produce, beans, nuts and whole grains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.