High Salt Levels in Processed and Fast Food Remain Unchanged: Study

First Posted: May 14, 2013 07:30 AM EDT

A latest study published in JAMA Internal Medicine states that despite calls by several medical experts to reduce the intake of sodium, it is seen that the dangerously high levels of salt in processed and fast food remains unchanged.

According to a new Northwestern Medicine study conducted with the Center for Science, the sodium content remains high and hasn't changed. Researchers came up with the conclusion after assessing the content of sodium in selected processed food, including fast food restaurants in the years 2005, 2008 and 2011.

"The voluntary approach has failed," Stephen Havas, M.D., corresponding author of the paper and a research professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in a press statement. "The study demonstrates that the food industry has been dragging its feet and making very few changes. This issue will not go away unless the government steps in to protect the public. The amount of sodium in our food supply needs to be regulated."

According to reports, nearly 150,000 people are killed every year in the U.S. due to excess sodium intake. And about 90 percent of the U.S. population reports high blood pressure and high salt intake as the main cause. Rise in blood pressure triggers several heart diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, resulting in death or disability.

According to Havas, excess salt in food helps the food industry. This is because high salt covers the ingredients that are not the best quality and simultaneously causes people to drink more soda and alcohol, which results in the industry making more profit.

It is recommended by the American Heart Association that an individual should take not more than 1,500 milligrams (three-fifths of a teaspoon) of salt, but normally Americans have an average of almost two teaspoons a day of salt. Nearly 80 percent of the daily sodium intake comes from processed and fast food.

Havas states that the only way people can meet the current sodium recommendation is to cook from scratch and avoid using salt. However, most people will not find this realistic.

Apart from this, the study also found that between 2005 and 2011, the sodium content in 402 processed foods dropped by 3.5 percent, whereas in 78 fast-food restaurant products, the sodium content increased by 2.6 percent.

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