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Hint: It's not coming from your salt shaker.

May 10, 2017

If you ask some people—present company included—a little salt makes everything better—except, of course, our health. We've long known that, on average, Americans ingest way too much sodium. And now, a new study unveils that we're likely getting about 50 percent more salt than we should each day. 

Researchers with various universities studied 450 diverse people across the country to see how much salt they ate over the course of four days. Just FYI, according to the American Heart Association, most people should ingest no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Although there is some indication that if you are already healthy, salt may not be as bad for you as previously thought. But the researchers found that the average American is consuming a whopping 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day, which is a lot no matter what your state of health.

Where is all that salt coming from? Not from our salt shakers, the researchers found. In fact, about 70 percent of the salt that makes it into our stomachs comes from both restaurant foods and the commercially processed foods we buy from the store, the researchers say. In other words, we're not over-salting our foods ourselves.

Instead, here's a breakdown of what the researchers discovered, based on what the participants shared with them via phone interviews and salt samples: sodium added to the food we eat outside our homes accounted for about 70 percent of our salt intake, while just about five percent of our daily sodium comes from our preparation in our own pans and pots and just about four percent comes from our salt shakers.

What does all this mean? Basically, if your doctor is telling you that your sodium levels are too high and you have to cut back, laying off your salt shaker won't be enough, says lead researcher Lisa J. Harnack said. "Rather, commercially processed and restaurant foods should be the primary focus when educating patients on strategies for lowering sodium in the diet," she writes. "Food manufacturers and restaurants should ... lower the sodium content in their food products to support Americans in consuming a diet consistent with sodium intake recommendations."

Until that happens, the researchers advise you pay close attention to the nutritional information on the packaged foods you buy, and choose low-sodium products when possible. And, of course, adding less of your own salt to meals can't hurt, either.