Crunching the numbers on salt intake

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 27, 2012.

If you’re a modern-day American – healthy or not – chances are you’re consuming too much salt. That’s the message from a recent American Heart Association advisory, which says the average person eats more than twice the recommended daily amount of sodium.

The dietary culprits include processed foods like pizza, soups, sauces and lunchmeat, but also less obvious foods like bread and cereal. The association based its advisory on a review of studies and determined that sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart disease.

Here are the numbers:

1,500 milligrams

The amount of sodium the American Heart Association recommends per person, per day. This is less than three-fourths of a teaspoon of table salt. The U.S. Department of Agriculture agrees with this recommendation for most people, including children, adults over age 51, all African Americans and all patients with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes. However, if you’re not in one of these risk groups, the USDA has relaxed its sodium limit to 2,300 milligrams.

3,400 milligrams

The amount of sodium the average American eats per day – about 1 1/2 teaspoons of table salt.

140 milligrams

The amount of sodium a food product is allowed to have, per serving, to qualify for the FDA’s “low sodium” label. A food can be labeled “reduced sodium” if it contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version of the product.

26 percent

The estimated decrease in cases of high blood pressure in the United States if all Americans dropped their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, according to the American Heart Association.