Nine out of 10 American adults consume too much salt and the leading culprit is not potato chips or popcorn but slices of bread and dinner rolls, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
Forty-four percent of salt consumed can be linked to 10 types of foods, CDC said. Bread and rolls lead the list followed by cold cuts and cured meat, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks such as pretzels and potato chips.
Bread may not have much salt in a single serving, but when eaten several times a day can raise daily salt intake. A single slice of white bread could contain as many as 230 milligrams of salt, according to the CDC.
High salt intake can raise blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, the CDC said.
The average American consumes 3,266 milligrams of salt daily, not counting salt added at the table, which is far above the recommended 2,300 milligrams, the CDC said.
For six out of 10 Americans, including those who are over age 51 or have high blood pressure or diabetes, 1,500 milligrams is the recommended daily salt limit.
Even foods that seem healthy such as cottage cheese may be high in salt, the agency reported. Even raw chicken and pork is often injected with salt.
The CDC recommended eating more fruits and vegetables and carefully reading the labels on food products to find those with the lowest salt content.
"Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in the United States and are largely dependent on the high rate of high blood pressure," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden told reporters in a telephone news conference Tuesday.
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, he added.
"One of the things that is driving blood pressure up is that most adults in this country eat or drink about twice the amount of sodium as is recommended," Frieden said. "Most of that extra sodium comes from common grocery store and restaurant items and a very small proportion from the salt shaker at the table."
Nearly two-thirds of the salt consumed by Americans is found in store products, 24.8 percent from restaurants and the remainder from other sources such as vending machines and the home salt shaker, the study found.
Salt per calorie of food consumed was much higher at restaurants than from store-bought food, the CDC said.
Frieden recommended that food producers and restaurants voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their food. A 25-percent drop in the salt content of the top 10 sodium sources would save 28,000 lives a year, he added. It would also give consumers more choice, he said.
"People can choose how much food to add at the table," he said. "They can't take it out once it's there."
The Grocery Manufacturer's Association said that the food industry has been trying to reduce the salt content of thousands of products while keeping it tasty for consumers.
"While progress is being made, reducing sodium in products without affecting the taste or consumer acceptance of products is no easy task," the industry group said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
The group said that challenges of reducing salt include finding substitutes for it that maintain the taste, and making sure that food safety standards are met because salt is a major preservative in many foods.