Holding the Salt Has Life-Saving Benefits

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As Americans casually add salt to their diet, they're subtracting years from their lives.

"In the U.S., we eat more than twice as much salt per day as we really need," said Dr. Lee Goldman of Columbia University.

The recommended daily salt intake is 3.7 to 5.8 grams. But the average American male consumes over 10 grams - or almost two teaspoons - each day and the average female over seven grams.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that cutting out just three grams of salt per day could prevent anywhere from 54,000 to 99,000 heart attacks and 32,000 to 66,000 strokes.

How can Americans cut the salt? Start with salty snacks. The three most popular ones in America are loaded with it; potato and tortilla chips have almost half a gram in one serving and popcorn has nearly three quarters of a gram.

"We found that increased salt intake in the U.S. is now as big a problem as cholesterol, almost as big a problem as smoking," Dr. Goldman said

The vast majority of salt in the American diet comes from processed foods, not from people adding it themselves.

"We have to look at it on the package, we have to work with the manufacturers," Dr. Goldman said. "Unless we do that, our salt intake's going to go up even if we ban salt shakers from every household in the U.S."

We're not talking about a huge sacrifice, LaPook notes. The three grams of salt that experts say to cut out daily comes to about four slices of bologna.

  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook