If you are trying to avoid salt, you can't trust your taste buds. That's the message from a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is trying to refocus attention on the dangers of salt hidden in packaged and restaurant food.
The group analyzed more than 500 foods. Its findings show that even within one product categorylike canned albacore tuna, ketchup, or fast-food french friesthere's a big variation in sodium content. (Burger King fries, for example, have nearly three times the sodium found in McDonald's fries.) The only way to tell is to read the label in the grocery store or ask for nutritional information in a chain restaurant.
The group says the average American consumes 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, about twice the recommended amount for healthy adults not at risk for high blood pressure. (Those with hypertension, older adults, and African-Americans are advised to take in just 1,500 milligrams a day.)
Most of that is from processed and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker. Though there is some debate over whether a healthy adult with normal blood pressure reduces his or her risk of medical problems or death by cutting salt consumption (the CSPI calls salt "the forgotten killer"), it's hard to argue with increased disclosure of nutritional information in restaurants. That would make it easier for people to monitor their consumption not only of salt but also of fat and calories. The CSPI wants the government to pressure and even require manufacturers and chain restaurants to use less salt in their foods.
U.S. News wrote about the medical debate over the link between salt and high blood pressure in a May 30, 2005, article, "Take With a Grain of Salt."