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Study questions how sharply US should cut the salt

Friday - 5/17/2013, 12:20pm  ET

An advisory on salt shakers location in seen on a table at a Boston Market restaurant in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Boston Market has removed the salt shakers from the tables in their restaurants nationwide. A surprising new report questions how sharply Americans should cut back on salt. Make no mistake: Most Americans eat way too much, not just from salt shakers but because of sodium in processed foods. The Institute of Medicine said Tuesday there's no evidence that cutting well below established guidelines offers any benefit — even though that's recommended for certain people at high risk of heart disease. There are some suggestions that going way too low might harm certain patients. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

LAURAN NEERGAARD
AP Medical Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A surprising new report questions public health efforts to get Americans to sharply cut back on salt, saying it's not clear whether eating super-low levels is worth the struggle.

Make no mistake: Most Americans eat way too much salt, not just from salt shakers but because of sodium hidden inside processed foods and restaurant meals. Tuesday's report stresses that, overall, the nation needs to ease back on the sodium for better heart health.

But there's no good evidence that eating very low levels -- below the 2,300 milligrams a day that the government recommends for most people -- offers benefits even though national guidelines urge that certain high-risk patients do just that, the Institute of Medicine concluded.

Also, there are some hints, albeit from studies with serious flaws, that eating the lowest levels might actually harm certain people -- those who are being aggressively treated for serious heart failure, the report added.

The prestigious group, which advises the government about health, urged more and better research to settle the best target range.

"We're not saying we shouldn't be lowering excessive salt intake," said Dr. Brian Strom of the University of Pennsylvania, who led the IOM committee. But below 2,300 mg a day, "there is simply a lack of data that shows it is beneficial."

The average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium a day, equivalent to 1
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