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Study: Skip The Salt

All American adults get too much salt in their diets, according to a new study.

So, to cut back on the sodium in diets, new guidelines were made. Medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports the details on Thursday's The Early Show.

Senay says too much salt and too little potassium is the reason for new dietary recommendations by the Institute of Medicine. Public health experts say the extra salt is swelling the ranks of people with dangerous high blood pressure.

Dr. Stephen Havas is at the forefront of efforts to get rid of hidden salt from the nation's diet, and he says the amount of salt needed a day is about a fifth of a teaspoon. In contrast, the average person in America is consuming almost two teaspoons a day.

Two teaspoons is equal to a whopping 4,000 milligrams of salt, almost three times the new recommended 1,500 milligrams per day.

"I think most people have no idea that most of the salt they're getting comes from processed foods and restaurant foods," says Havas.

Senay says the big surprise is how quickly the numbers add up in the supermarket aisles. For example: pre-made spaghetti sauce has a thousand milligram per cup of salt. To avoid the salt in pre-packaged spaghetti sauce, Havas recommends making your own spaghetti sauce -- using whole-peeled tomatoes.

Another packaged food with high salt content to be aware of is macaroni and cheese.

"One cup of macaroni and cheese has almost a thousand milligrams of sodium, and who ever eats just one cup of macaroni and cheese," says Havas.

The only real salt-free zone is the fresh produce section.

"All of the foods that are found there are really good for you," says Havas. "They're really healthy, they help prevent hypertension."

Salt, however, is not always an ingredient you can control. It's common practice for restaurants to prepare food with a lot of added salt, and the numbers are often increased more with larger servings.

Some estimate that 150,000 lives a year would be saved if sodium were reduced in processed and restaurant foods by 50 percent. The new report recommends that researchers help food processors develop better ways of making food that is low in salt.

Senay says the right salt and potassium intake is important to reduce high blood pressure. The old recommendation was for 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. The new recommendation is much lower at 1,500 milligrams a day, with the absolute maximum at 2,300 milligrams for the average adult.

Senay says as high blood pressure risk increases with age, older people should strive to eat even less salt as they get older – 1,300 milligrams a day for those over 50, and 1,200 milligrams for those over 70.

The guidelines urge Americans to eat more potassium -- 4,700 milligrams per day -- which helps lower blood pressure. And, as for the old eight glasses of water per day, Senay says forget about it. The average person gets plenty of hydration from the beverages they drink on a daily basis as well as from food.