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Posted at 05:41 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Our excess salt doesn’t come from the shaker

Last night I baked some nice crusty baguettes to go with a delicious cod-and-red-pepper soup (which I also made, albeit with canned broth). It was a great dinner. But all through the night I kept waking up feeling parched and clamoring for the water I keep on my bedside table. I don’t (consciously) eat a lot of salt and never use a shaker. But the two teaspoons I’d used in the bread and the sodium in the reduced-sodium broth apparently packed a wallop.

So salt was already on my mind when I read a report on sodium intake among people in the United States ages 2 and older issued Tuesday by the CDC. Among the highlights: We consume about 3,266 milligrams of sodium a day, way more than the 2,300 mg limit many of us should stick to and more than twice the 1,500 mg people predisposed to cardiovascular disease (about half the population) should have. And that doesn’t even count the salt we add at the table! In fact, the report points out that only 5 percent to 6 percent of our salt is added during cooking and another 5 percent to 6 percent is added at the table.

High sodium intake raises the risk of hypertension, which in turn raises risk of heart attack and stroke.

So where’s all that sodium coming from? The report found that 44 percent of our salt comes from just 10 kinds of foods, mostly things we buy at the store. Topping the list: bread and rolls. Other chief culprits: “cold cuts/cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta mixed dishes, meat mixed dishes and savory snacks.”

Homemade or store-bought, bread needs some salt to make its chemistry work. The amount of salt used can vary widely, though; one way people can reduce salt in their diets is to compare labels and choose products, including breads, that contain less sodium.

The key thing is to become aware of those milligrams and how quickly they add up.

If I had been writing this blog post yesterday, I might have hopped on my high horse and said we could solve the sodium problem if we all just cooked more meals at home. As my baguette and soup experience suggests, it’s not as simple as that.

In fact, avoiding too much salt is far from simple. It’s hard work.

But it can be done, if you’re willing to try. If you are concerned about your sodium intake, take a look at the government-endorsed, U.S.-News-&-World-Report-lauded DASH Diet, which has a strong track record of helping people lower their blood pressure, in part by reducing salt intake.

Which may mean fewer baguettes. Quel dommage.

By  |  05:41 PM ET, 02/07/2012

 
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