You should eat less salt, the government says. A lot less.
It won't be easy. Consumers will need help from food companies if they are going to meet the government's ambitious new goals, announced Monday, for half of Americans to reduce the amount of salt they eat by more than half. Most salt intake doesn't come from the shaker on the table; it's hidden in foods such as breads, chicken and pasta.
Many of the rest of us need to cut back on sodium, too, the government said. And we still need to just plain eat less, especially fats.
The new dietary guidelines, issued every five years by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, are telling people who are 51 and older, African-American or suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease to cut the amount of sodium they eat daily to little more than half a teaspoon.
That group includes about half of the population and those who are most at risk of having higher blood pressure due to the amount of salt they eat.
For everyone else, the government continues to recommend about a teaspoon a day -- 2,300 milligrams -- or about one-third less than the average person usually consumes.
Kraft Foods Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., Heinz Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Bumble Bee Foods Inc. are some of the companies that have committed to lowering sodium levels. But it's often a multiyear process to dial down the sodium, largely so consumers do not detect the changes in taste.
To reduce the risk of disease from high sodium intake, the guidelines say people should:
Read nutrition labels closely and buy items labeled low in sodium.
Use little or no salt when cooking or eating.
Eat more fresh or home-prepared foods and fewer processed foods, so they know exactly what they are eating.
Ask that salt not be added to foods at restaurants.
Gradually reduce sodium intake over time to get used to the taste.