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Americans should cut back -- way back -- on salt and add up to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day to their diets, a new report said Wednesday.
The average American's taste for salt, which is often found in large amounts in processed foods and fast food, has health consequences, the report says. If Americans cut back on salt, there would be fewer cases of high blood pressure, which afflicts about half of all Americans age 60 and older, according to the report. It was released by the Institute of Medicine, a Washington-based organization that provides scientific advice to federal policymakers.
The 450-page report also set dietary standards for potassium and even suggested the optimal amount of water that people should consume every day.
Consumers should pay more attention to salt, especially in the form of sodium added to processed foods like lunch meats, canned vegetables or baked goods, says panel chairman Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
People should be getting no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, the panel says, far less than the government's recommendation of 2,400 milligrams a day. But Appel and the other panel members felt strongly that the current standard isn't protecting Americans from high blood pressure and other health problems.
Americans also should eat more foods rich in potassium, which is found in bananas, orange juice, green beans and potatoes, the panel says. The panel recommends that people get about 4.7 grams of potassium a day. To achieve that, most Americans would have to eat about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, Appel says.
That might be a tall order for many people.
''Some people go through the whole day without eating a single vegetable,'' says Carolyn Katzin, a nutrition expert at the University of California-Los Angeles and a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. Katzin and other experts say fruits and veggies help protect people from cancer, heart disease and other conditions.
The report also said most people in the USA could meet their water needs by letting thirst guide them. Men should get about 125 ounces of water a day by drinking beverages and eating foods with a high water content like fruits and vegetables. Women should get about 91 ounces a day.
Health experts such as Katzin applauded the institute's tough stand on salt. But the Grocery Manufacturers of America says the panel would reduce the average American's salt intake by 50%. ''That's unrealistic,'' says Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the group. Most companies are working on reducing the sodium in their foods, she says; however, it's not feasible to remove all sodium from foods because salt makes food taste better.
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