ATLANTA - When it comes to our health, salt matters, says Dr. Stacie Schmidt, Director of the Primary Care Center at Grady Memorial Hospital because too much salt drives up our blood pressure.
"High blood pressure is responsible for about 50% of strokes," says Dr. Schmidt. "And it places a really high role in heart disease, particularly congestive heart failure, but also heart attacks."
The U.S government recommends we consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt, a teaspoon a day, and no more than 1,500 milligrams for those of us at higher risk of heart disease. But, many of us consume much more than that, often without realizing it.
"I think that many people think that high sodium, a high sodium diet, is due to putting too much salt on your food from the salt shaker," says Schmidt. "But, what we don't really realize is that there is a lot of salt added to the processed foods that we eat every day."
And, certain foods may be packed with hidden salt.
"So, breads, pizza, deli meat and sausages contain very high levels of sodium," says Dr. Schmidt. "Sometimes half of what you would eat in one day's period."
To help Americans cut the salt, and have more low-sodium choices, the Food and Drug Administration is releasing draft salt guidelines, pushing food manufacturers and the restaurant industry to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt added to certain foods.
To shop smarter, Dr. Schmidt says, start checking the nutritional information on your favorite foods at the grocery store.
Compare sodium levels per serving, choosing the one with the lowest amount.
Be wary of canned foods, which are often high in salt, Dr. Schmidt says.
Choose items labeled "no added salt" or "low sodium" rather than "reduced sodium," which can still be high in salt.
"Focus more on buying fresh produce and frozen produce," says Dr. Schmidt. "Frozen fruits or vegetables have much lower sodium. In fact, no sodium has been added at all."
If you're preparing canned vegetables, rinse them in water. That can cut the sodium by 40 percent, according to the American Heart Association.